The word “fracking” is one that only reached public consciousness a few years ago now, but was instantly embraced and used to good measure by politicians and the public alike. It lent itself to brilliant protest slogans – “frack off”, “get the frack off my land” etc – and the act of fracking itself divided communities.
Vehement opposition to fracking has been considerable, if not unanimous, in the global green community for years now, and in Europe in particular. France and Bulgaria, countries with the largest shale-gas reserves in Europe, have already banned fracking. Protesters are blocking potential drilling sites in Poland and England. Opposition to fracking entered popular culture in the slightly-schmaltzy Matt Damon movie, “Promised Land”. Even the Rolling Stones weighed in with a reference to fracking in their single, “Doom and Gloom.”
So what exactly is fracking, or to use its more formal name - hydraulic fracturing? Descriptions can start to blind you with science, but from what I have learned it essentially starts with the fact that many types of sandstone, limestone and shale far below ground contain natural gas, which was formed as dead organisms in the rock decomposed. This gas is released and can be captured at the surface for our use, when the rocks in which it is trapped are drilled. To increase the flow of released gas, the rocks can be broken apart, or fractured.
Back in the 1940s oil and gas drilling companies in the US began fracking rock by pumping highly pressurised water into it, and since then approximately one million American wells have been fracked. Most of these are vertical wells that tap into porous sandstone or limestone. Since the 1990s, however, gas companies have been able to harvest the gas still stuck in the original shale source. Fracking shale happens when you drill horizontal wells that extend from their vertical well shafts along horizontal shale layers. This horizontal drilling lets engineers inject high-pressure water directly into the layers of shale to create the fractures that release the gas. Chemicals added to the water dissolve minerals, kill bacteria that might plug up the well, and insert sand to prop open the fractures. This is where some of the really shitty stuff comes in.
The fracking “cocktail” includes acids, detergents and poisons that are not regulated by federal laws but can be problematic if they seep into drinking water. Fracking since the 1990s has used greater volumes of cocktail-laden water, injected at higher pressures. Water from all gas wells often returns to the surface containing extremely low but measurable concentrations of radioactive elements and huge concentrations of salt. This brine can be detrimental if not disposed of properly. Injection of brine into deep wells for disposal has in rare cases triggered small earthquakes.
Most opponents of fracking focus on potential local environmental consequences and in addition to these local effects, natural gas extraction has global environmental consequences. The methane gas that is accessed through extraction and the carbon dioxide released during methane burning are both greenhouse gases that contribute to global climate change. New fracking technologies allow for the extraction of more gas, and therefore contribute even more to climate change than previous natural gas extraction. YUCK.
Despite the facts, so many of us feel like we can’t make a difference nowadays when it comes to issues like fracking. But not Dayne Pratzky aka the Frackman, the subject of tonight’s brilliant documentary, FRACKMAN. Over eight years ago now Pratzky started a war with the Queensland coal seam gas industry that left him financially and emotionally drained, but still angry enough to rip out the gas connection in his new house years later.
The film tells the story of the accidental activist and his struggle against international gas companies, with a particular focus on the issue in a country so close to our own. Australia will soon become the world's biggest gas exporter as more than 30,000 'fracked' wells are sunk in the state of Queensland where the protagonist lives. Over the years Pratzky and his neighbours have unwittingly become the centre of a massive industrial landscape and incredibly, they have no legal right to stop mining on their land. As the newly anointed Frackman embarks on a journey that transforms him from conservative pig-shooter and everyday bloke to sophisticated global activist, we witness his anger and frustration and it becomes our own. The true power of the documentary is Dayne, an ordinary bloke turned accidental activist that shows that if we get pissed off enough, we too have the power to lobby to bring about change.
FRACKMAN premieres Thursday 1 June at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel
In support of the RIALTO GOES GREEN environmental documentaries month, we have two SKIN BY ECOSTORE facial skincare prize packages worth $200 each to give away. Rialto subscribers can enter here