Building the World

Frackin’ Bakken


Photographer: Alfred T. Palmer. Image: Library of Congress.

Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” pierces land to access oil and gas in rock formations by injecting chemicals mixed with water, drawn from underground aquifers. To fracture rock, water must gush: a virtual firehose spitting harsh chemicals, propelled by as many as 10,000,000 gallons before the well is even operational. Aquifers are already challenged, in an increasingly thirsty world.  In North Dakota, Bakken may be the test case for what works (and doesn’t). Drinking and agricultural water have, in some locations, become contaminated, even radioactive.

Artists led by Yoko Ono successfully protested New York State’s possible participation, but, despite such victories, the war might heading in fracking’s favor. Proponents of the propellant technology claim shale energy is cleaner than coal, and large deposits, like Bakken, Marcellus or Eagle Ford, could make the United States energy independent for the next 100 years. But then what?

Michael McElroy and Xi Lu propose a strategy of natural gas as a transition to renewable energy (with CO2 emissions reduced 80% ) by 2050. What can we learn from water energy agreements, such as the Colorado River Compact or Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric, regarding the future of fracking? Will 2015, culminating year of the United Nations Decade of Water, occasion progress?

For more:

Chester Dawson, “Leak of Oil-Well Wastewater Taints River in North Dakota.” The Wall Street Journal, Jan 22, 2015.

Joseph Stromberg, “Radioactive Wastewater From Fracking Is Found in a Pennsylvania Stream.” Oct 2, 2013,

Michael McElroy and Xi Lu, “Fracking’s Future: Natural gas, the economy, and America’s energy prospects.” Harvard Magazine, Jan-Feb 2013.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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