THE BLOG
12/11/2013 10:20 am ET Updated Feb 10, 2014

The Water Is Fracked Up

Deroy Murdock must live in a dream-world.

In a recent article in the New York Post, syndicated columnist Murdock asserts that "Fracking outgreens 'green' energy." If the fracking taking place in Pennsylvania is drastically different from the fracking happening in North Dakota, I could consider paying attention to Murdock's argument. But it is not.

Murdock's article is ripe with such outlandish claims, including this point about the water issue: "Conservationists should smile at how little water fracking requires versus other energy sources." Fracking in North Dakota, as Patrick J. Kiger points out in his recent National Geographic article, requires two million gallons for each well. Here's what one million gallons of water looks like: a pool that is 267 feet in length, 50 feet across, and 10 feet deep. Each well in North Dakota requires at least twice that amount of water.

And as Lynn Helms's recent "Director's cut" highlights on the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources' website, as of September there are 9,682 producing wells in North Dakota. At a conservative estimate that would mean that 19.364 billion gallons of chemically treated freshwater would need to be used to harvest crude shale oil just in North Dakota.

But that's the conservative estimate. Over the lifespan of the well, which officials like Helms believe could be as long as 30-40 years, the amount of water drastically goes up to 6.6 to 8.8 million gallons for each well.

So where is all this water going to come from, and why can't oil companies keep reusing the water that is sent down to break up the shale? First, the water that comes back to the surface from the fracking process is already too salty to be reused (well sites suffer from salt buildup and rely on freshwater to help clear pipes of salt particles to help keep the oil flowing). The salty water can be reused in fracking at new well sites, but to keep the pipes free of salt buildup only freshwater can be used.

North Dakota has currently backed the Western Area Water supply project, which is in the process of building a $110 million pipeline, treatment facilities and water depot with water taken from the Missouri River, the major water highway that flows through North Dakota.

Murdock's hubris goes so far as to say, "So, if you are a Gila monster or a Joshua tree, cheer fracking and hiss solar." But here's the reality: the Gila monster, the Joshua tree and human beings are all solar-powered creatures on a solar-powered planet. Lizards, trees, humans and the rest of the earth depend on the sun for warmth and growth. Solar power is incredibly efficient -- think about trees growing around the planet, well-insulated houses that capture and use energy from the sun to heat themselves.

But Murdock's own shortsightedness is apparent early on in his article:

This spot now resembles the scene of a once-raging party that has been cleared out and cleaned up. The trucks have driven off. Dozens of workers have moved on. The cranes are gone. What remains are three acres of gravel-covered farmland, five completed wells, and a steady, low-volume whoosh.

The process and politics of fracking do not create sustainable jobs. Fracking is not a green energy source, using billions of gallons of water, flaring off of natural gas and ill-practiced disposal of salt water, which kills vital ecosystems. Murdock seems to suggest that once the boom of fracking busts, then fracking becomes a green energy source, but he doesn't examine the mismanagement of companies like Tesoro, Halliburton, and Enbridge in the process. Companies that have spilled more than their fare share of oil.

In our discussion of fracking it would behoove people such as Deroy Murdock to pay attention to the facts that happen in the process of fracking. He might soon realize that fracking takes us further into the earth, increasing seismic activity as Helms states in his report, and deeper into large corporate pocketbooks. Murdock might then see that fracking leaves us with saltwater everywhere and not a drop of freshwater to drink.