Lafarge - the largest supplier of construction materials in the U.S., including cement for fracking wells - claims proper cementing ensures a longer lifespan for wells and less money spent in the long run. But how does cement production and transportation affect the environment?
According to the Department of Environmental Protection, Lafarge’s Whitehall, PA plant emits into the air 1,745 tons of carbon monoxide per year. On top of that, it emits 368 tons of nitrogen oxides and 331 tons of sulfur oxides per year, along with a number of other chemicals. Each of these chemicals pose substantial health risks to local residents.What’s worse, to fuel their manufacturing operations, Lafarge uses tire-derived-fuel. To make the fuel, Lafarge incinerates old tires. This releases chemicals into the air, making it harmful to breathe.
Chemicals called Dioxins and Furans are created when chlorine is burned. Tires contain chlorine. Dioxins are highly toxic and cause serious health problems, such as infertility, learning disabilities, birth defect, and cancer.
One way Lafarge claims tire incineration for fuel is a good thing is by labeling it as a form of recycling and a way to clear landfills. But there are other ways to recycle thrown-away tires. They can be used in tennis courts, playground equipment, and railroad ties. In addition, a substance called Rubberized Asphalt Concrete, a mixture of tires ground into dust with traditional asphalt, is used to pave roads. Perhaps the best solution, though, is to throw away fewer tires by retreading - a form of repair that makes your tire last longer and perform better (www.retread.org).
Cement casing is often an answer to concerns over water contamination due to fracking. In fact, some believe that with properly sealed wells, fracking would be an entirely safe practice, with relatively little cost to our health or the environment.
After a gas well is drilled into the ground in the fracking process, workers pump cement into the gap between earth and well casing. This prohibits gas, oil, and toxins from leaking into clean water systems. For a cement job to work as an effective seal, the cement must fill all of the open space surrounding a well, down to the bottom of the well and all the way back up to the surface. Workers are then to wait eight hours for the cement to harden before continuing drilling, to prevent the cement from cracking (www.savecoloradofromfracking.org/whatgoeswrong/cementing.html).
But often workers, for one reason or another, do not wait. Nor do they always pump enough cement, figuring the less used, the more money saved. What results is cracks or open space from which gas can leak and contaminate clean water.
In fact, a probable explanation for cases of higher-than-normal concentrations of methane found in groundwater is that the cement is not forming a proper seal (www.sciencenews.org). Cracking or too little cement can allow methane, the gas extracted in the fracking process, to leak into water sources, causing illness or explosions in the home.
Forbes Contributor James Conca cites the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which killed eleven and cost billions of dollars (www.scribd.com), as an example of what can happen following a faulty cement job. Other frightening examples of water pollution due to cement problems include Colorado cases of flames shooting out of kitchen faucets due to high levels of methane in the water. One of these cases is documented in the anti-fracking film.
However, it’s is also possible that even if workers seal wells properly, cement could still crack over time. Or could it be fracking itself that causing contamination? Debate continues over whether fracking itself causes water contamination, or if inadequate cement casings are entirely to blame. It could be that the fracking process, which includes drilling and blasting a water-sand-chemical mixture deep into the ground, opens up stray channels that allow gas to flow into clean water sources.
Recent studies show that 6-7% of wells over the past three years have failed, leading to gas leaks and water contamination. At this rate, almost 10,000 new wells built in the coming year will have structural problems, which could result in more water pollution, or worse. (www.damascuscitizensforsustainability.org). A. Scott Anderson, a senior policy advisor with the Environmental Defense Fund, believes that every incidence of groundwater pollution “have all been caused by well construction problems,” and that the remedy calls for “better cementing and more testing to ensure that wells and cement have no leaks” (online.wsj.com). While it’s clear that strict policies need to be implemented to ensure that gas wells are properly cemented, there is no telling yet whether proper cementing is the key to ending water pollution in fracking areas.