For those interested in buying this book, I'll lay out some key points to consider: First, this has to be one of the most definitive books on the history, development and processes involved in hydraulic fracturing of gas and oil wells ever written. It's also easily understandable by those of us not that familiar with the practice or the industry, but don't expect to skim through it. And, close to 40% of the book's 385 pages consists of comprehensive source material and an alphabetic index.
Personally, I commend the author - an investigative reporter at The Wall Street Journal who has covered the industry for many years - for including this information; as a journalist myself, I would have expected no less. I simply want potential buyers to know that a substantial portion of the book is so readers can get more information (and confirm where the author got his). Furthermore, this book is neither an expose nor an attempt to sway the vote in either direction; rather, it's a very thorough report on how the whole thing got started, where it's at now and, insofar as anyone can tell at this point, where it may go in the future.
There's little doubt "fracking" is here to stay, and I freely admit I haven't been all that happy about it since the volume has been turned up in and around my little part of northeastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania with exploration (some would insist the definitive word is "exploitation") of the vast area that contains Marcellus Shale. But I also admit to knowing little about how fracking really works, so I tried hard to keep an open mind as I read.
Now that I've finished, I can't say my overall opinion has changed, but my perspective certainly has. In fact, my biggest worry - that too much fracking (cracking solid rock miles below the earth's surface with drills and highly pressurized water mixed with other chemicals) - will blow our home planet apart from the inside out has pretty much gone by the boards, even though the fracking process has been linked to relatively mild earthquakes in some parts of the country (including mine). But that view been replaced by other concerns that continuing this "boom" at the rate it's going now may not be what's best for generations to come.
There's no way to condense all the facts and figures here (nor would I presume to try). But here are a few tidbits I picked up along the way:
- The gas and oil industry certainly isn't new; the first petroleum engineering degrees were conferred by the University of Pittsburgh in 1915 on four students - one from New Castle, Pa., which is within what I consider my local area.
- Nearly every well drilled in the United States today is a fracked well. That's about 100 wells a day, maybe more, that are being drilled year-round. "Whether you fear fracking or celebrate it, that's a lot of holes in the ground," the author writes.
- Fracking is so common that some have dubbed the new United States "Frackistan."
- By 2030, the United States is poised to become an oil exporter.
- In 2012, Chesapeake Energy, one of the industry giants and a big player in the Ohio-Pennsylvania market, earned $20 billion; the company drills more than 1,000 wells each year, all of them fracked. From 2004 to 2011, Chesapeake drilled more wells than any other company in the world - an average of four every single day.
One point that stood out in my mind is that the energy industry spends about $105 billion annually on hydraulic fracturing; about $5 billion of that is spent on "cementing," or securing the pipes to ensure that gas or salty water stays in the rock and doesn't flow into another one. But it appears there's precious little evaluation to make sure the cement itself is leak proof; it if isn't, gas can seep into shallow aquifers and then contaminate residential water (no doubt you've heard stories from folks who live near fracked wells about being able to set the water that comes from their kitchen faucets on fire). No, the very few times that happens may not be a huge concern (although those who experience it will say once is too often, and their point is well taken). But in my mind, at least, the issue of whether or not we're doing enough to prevent it from happening at all is.
The Boom: How Fracking Ignited the American Energy Revolution and Changed the World by Russell Gold (Simon & Schuster, April 2014); 385 pp.