For the past month, Alexis Madrigal at The Atlantic has been running a good series on energy called, The User's Guide to Energy.
In this video, Madrigal explains the two main technologies that have made the recent natural gas boom possible: hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and horizontal drilling. As he notes, these two technologies are often lumped together under the single term fracking, but it is important to understand how they differ.
Horizontal drilling, for example, makes it possible to dig beneath the land -- horizontally -- to access gas that is not directly beneath the drill rig. This is important to know, because I suspect we will increasingly be hearing about how these horizontal drill rigs are creeping closer and closer to communities and digging beneath our towns for gas.
When my wife and I pulled into a relative’s subdivision in Frederick, Colo., after a wedding on a recent weekend, it was a surprise to suddenly find a 142-foot-tall drill rig in the backyard, parked in the narrow strip of land between there and the next subdivision to the east. It had appeared in the two days we’d been gone.
This couple hundred grassy acres, thick with meadowlarks and bisected by a creek crowded with cattail, bulrush, willow, and raccoon tracks, sits atop the DJ Basin shale deposit. Our folks hadn’t known that when they bought the property last year, nor did they recall any useful notice that this new industrial neighbor was moving in.
We witnessed the increasing phenomenon of rigs popping up in suburban neighborhoods like mushrooms overnight. The craze of the gas rush means that companies won’t hesitate to drill wherever shale deposits lie — even if they’re under a school or a subdivision. The message to homeowners in towns big and small alike seems to be: You are on notice. The ills of fracking that were once viewed as a rural concern — contamination of air and water, noise pollution, reduced safety on roads jammed with heavy trucks — are coming to your backyard, too.
It isn't going to be easy for individuals and communities to fight back against the natural gas or fossil fuel industries, but learning what they are doing and how they are doing it is an important step in winning those local battles.