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Since You Asked: Fracking and the LNG pipeline

If the LNG pipeline goes through, what is fracking? I heard it uses a lot of water, maybe from the ocean. Right now, I think water is more valuable than oil.

— Jeff K., Medford

What the frack, Jeff? It sounds like you’re getting a bit confused about the pipeline that will bring natural gas to a liquefied natural gas terminal in Coos Bay.

First off, no fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, has been proposed anywhere in Oregon to supply the natural gas to the pipeline, so the production of the gas won’t be relying on Oregon water. Instead, the natural gas will be coming from Canada and other parts of the U.S. and sent through pipelines to the LNG plant. The proposed pipeline would traverse Southern Oregon, including Jackson County.

As to your question, hydraulic fracturing does involve injecting a lot of water, sand and chemicals into the ground at high pressure to fracture shale rocks and release the oil and natural gas. The fracking boom in the U.S. has led to a relative abundance of oil and natural gas as well as lower prices at the pump. Fracking has also been criticized for polluting ground water and for causing earthquakes, though those issues have been hotly debated.

Water used in fracking becomes contaminated with salts and toxic substances. The waste water from fracking is often saltier than ocean water, and there are some treatment systems that can remove the salt and other substances to reuse in the fracking process. Fracking is used in the Gulf of Mexico on deep-sea well platforms.

The Associated Press recently reported that oil and gas companies fracking off the Southern California coast must report chemicals discharged into the ocean under a new rule released this month by federal environmental regulators.

The rule took place after a series of stories by The Associated Press last year revealed at least a dozen offshore frack jobs in the Santa Barbara Channel, and more than 200 in waters overseen by the state of California.

Hydraulic fracturing was conducted with no separate environmental analysis of the fracking chemicals on the sea surroundings, and little or no oversight, according to an Associated Press story.

Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@mailtribune.com. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.