Post-Fukushima Japan ‘fracking’ around with danger

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North Texas energy executives hosted a delegation that came from Japan at the end of 2011 to learn about gas production techniques in the Barnett Shale, as reported in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.  Fort Worth-based Quicksilver Resources, an independent gas producer, hosted the group for a shale tour that included visits to sites in far north Fort Worth where wells are being drilled and fracked, a large gas compressor station, a factory for pumps used in hydraulic fracturing of wells and a luncheon hosted by Hillwood Properties, which oversees the huge Alliance development, which includes Quicksilver gas drilling sites.

Takashi Ishikawa, president of Ashikaga Gas Co., explained through an translator that the group came to Fort Worth because it is “looking into the possibilities of shale gas.”

For landlocked and resource-limited Japan, it is an energy shift that would have never been predicted by the experts. The oil shock of 1973 exposed the country’s overdependence on Middle Eastern oil, and allowed Japanese utilities to invest heavily in nuclear power.  But as it doubled down on nuclear power plants, Japan was slow to develop alternative forms of energy, like solar or wind power, which account for just 1 percent of its electricity supply.

Japanese officials are now exploring how to ramp up use of fossil fuels to replace nuclear, following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that destroyed Japan’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant. Natural gas from shale formations could play a role, according to an article in the NY Times.

“Regarding underground resources, the shale gas in North America is most interesting to Japan. … In the immediate future, the availability of shale gas is the greatest interest for us,” Japanese politician Yukio Edano told The Jakarta Post last week.

Many argue that modern mining and natural resource extraction techniques also bring devastating effects on our environment.  Fracking is risky, and may be associated with initiating earthquake events, a dangerous relationship that should prevent fracking of any kind in the island nation.  Fracking in southern CO has been linked to tremors there. When plates shift, tremors may occur.   In Ohio, state regulators confirmed: “A dozen earthquakes in northeastern Ohio were almost certainly induced by injection of gas-drilling wastewater into the earth.”

According to the USGS website, “Can we cause earthquakes? Is there any way to prevent earthquakes?” the agency notes, “Earthquakes induced by human activity have been documented in a few locations in the United States, Japan, and Canada.

The cause was injection of fluids into deep wells for waste disposal and secondary recovery of oil, and the use of reservoirs for water supplies. Most of these earthquakes were minor. The largest and most widely known resulted from fluid injection at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal near Denver, Colorado. In 1967, an earthquake of magnitude 5.5 followed a series of smaller earthquakes. Injection had been discontinued at the site in the previous year once the link between the fluid injection and the earlier series of earthquakes was established.”

Shale gas is a type of natural gas extracted from shale through technology called hydraulic fracturing (‘fracking’), which allows gas producers to safely recover natural gas from deep shale formations. Subsequently, some argue the process leaves the water table poisoned. Watching the film Gasland, viewers watch drinking water flaming up and catching on fire when a match is touched to it.

Coalbed fracture treatments use anywhere from 50,000 to 350,000 gallons of various stimulation and fracturing fluids, and from 75,000 to 320,000 pounds of proppant during the hydraulic fracturing of a single well.  Land owned by ranchers’ families for generations in Wyoming has been poisoned and destroyed by the gases coming to the surfaces and out of their water taps.

In Japan, ‘fracking’ is a popular technique for assessing the strength and stability of underground rock structures.  As much Japan’s northern prefecture of Fukushima already hosts an extensive “no-man’s land”, can they afford to potentially destroy more habitable areas?

Even without adding the risk of fracking, Japanese quake researchers have warned that Tokyo, one of the most densely populated areas in the world has a 70% chance of a magnitude 7 earthquake or greater in the next 4 years, and that jumps up to 98% within 30 years.

According to the government, a magnitude-7.3 earthquake would kill about 5,600 people, injure 159,000 and destroy 850,000 buildings.

Shinichi Sakai, an associate professor at the earthquake research institute, said that chances of a magnitude-7 earthquake striking Tokyo had increased since 11 March. “The government, individuals and corporations should make preparations for that now,” he said.

Using data from Japan’s meteorological agency, the institute said earthquakes of up to magnitude 6 had occurred five times more frequently than in normal years since the March disaster. The increased frequency has made it more likely that “the big one” could strike far sooner, it said.

Back in Japan, the drilling vessel Chikyu completed the first riser-drilling in IODP history to a depth of 1603 mbsf (meter below seafloor) at Site C0009 in the landward Kumano forearc basin in the Nankai convergent margin. Chikyu is a Japanese scientific drilling ship built for the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP). The vessel is designed to ultimately drill seven kilometres beneath the seabed, where theEarth’s crust is much thinner, and into the Earth’s mantle, deeper than any other hole drilled in the ocean thus far.

The ship was damaged by the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011. The ship was moored 300 m off the coast of Hachinohe, Aomori, but drifted by the tsunami and collided with a pier of the Hachinohe port. One of the six stabilizers was damaged and 1.5 meter hole was bored at the bottom. Local preliminary school children who visited the ship at the earthquake spent one night in the ship and were rescued by Japan Self-Defense Forces helicopters next day. The ship was repaired at a dock in Shingū, Wakayama and back to service in June 2011.

One of the main objectives of D/V CHIKYU is to drill through the earth’s crust and reach the mantle, where no one has ever explored before.  If fracking can cause earthquakes, what risks or unforseen events can drilling at the depths of Chikyu, into the earth’s mantle and tectonic plates,  potentially bring? Fracking doesn’t even touch these depths or areas?

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