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Trends and Outliers

TIBCO Spotfire's Business Intelligence Blog

01/20
2014

Data Analytics To Evaluate the Environmental Impact of ‘Fracking’

The US is poised to surpass Saudi Arabia and Russia to become the world’s largest oil producer by 2016, according to the International Energy Agency.

images4 150x150 Data Analytics To Evaluate the Environmental Impact of FrackingMeanwhile, natural gas production in the US has risen tenfold since 2006, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

One of the chief reasons the US has been able to achieve such dramatic gains in the exploration and recovery of both shale oil and natural gas deposits is due to the technique known as hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”).

Fracking is process where sand, water and chemicals are injected underground at high pressures to fracture the rock surrounding an oil or gas well.The process has enabled oil and gas drillers to use analytics to recover large deposits of energy from what were previously hard-to-reach places.

However, the technique has been controversial, with critics questioning the potential environmental impact of fracking on groundwater supplies, methane gas emissions, waste water handling, and even earthquakes.

Big data analytics have enabled energy companies to locate and mine oil and gas reserves from previously unknown or hard-to-reach locations. Data and analytics can also help energy companies, government agencies, and environmental organizations explore the impact that fracking is having on the environment.

For instance, energy companies, environmental watchdogs, and government agencies can extrapolate data involving the chemicals that are involved in fracking to analyze and measure changes in the quantities that are present in groundwater supplies as well as area streams and other waterways.

Such readings can alert government agencies and other entities if the presence of hydrochloric acid, tetramethylammonium chloride, or other toxic chemicals is reported at higher-than-accepted levels.

Big data analytics can also be used to monitor the potential impact that fracking has on nearby residents or those who may live downstream from where fracking is being conducted.

A study by doctors and a biologist in Pennsylvania where fracking is being conducted along the Marcellus Shale reveals cases of breathing problems, eye irritations, and other health issues among some residents in Washington County, south of Pittsburgh.

Meanwhile, a study published in the Human and Ecological Risk Assessment journal finds higher-than-normal concentrations of non-methane hydrocarbons – which may affect the brain and central nervous system – in the air near gas drilling sites in rural Colorado. Some of the contaminants were detected at levels high enough to harm children who are exposed to them before birth.

Because fracking is done thousands of feet below the surface, the practice has been found to cause earthquakes in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. A study by a University of Texas seismologist has found that the wells used to dispose of fracking waste water in the Barnett Shale have been linked to a rise in earthquakes in the area.

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