Just fifty miles northwest of the SWA Dallas office, jolts in the earth can be felt that are believed to be a result of fracking. Claims like these are a popular subject in this region where I have lived my entire life. I first became aware of the practice of fracking and its effects in… Read more »
Just fifty miles northwest of the SWA Dallas office, jolts in the earth can be felt that are believed to be a result of fracking. Claims like these are a popular subject in this region where I have lived my entire life. I first became aware of the practice of fracking and its effects in 2008. Many family members and friends in Northwest Louisiana were approached by gas company land men for the leasing of their property’s mineral rights. This generated much buzz about what positives and negatives were to come from the new exploration, but the issues were generally clouded over by the sharp influx of royalties. It wasn’t until I was browsing Google Earth a few years later that I became aware of the negative impact of fracking on our landscapes. I noticed strange, visible patterns of cleared land scattered over vast areas, as shown in the images above. That was when I realized that fracking sites were invading our rural and suburban landscapes with the proliferation of noxious weeds, and with far more dire consequences. They are alien, unsightly, over-scaled, invasive, and plentiful. These images display how swift the process can be over a relatively short period of time and how our landscapes are left in the end.
This explanation of the fracking process and its history ran in “Welcome to Frackville,” by New Mexico landscape architect Kim Sorvig, from the June 2013 issue of Landscape Architecture.
“A couple of million oil and gas wells have been drilled in the United States since the 1950s; there are about 825,000 of them currently producing, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. But conventional reservoirs are becoming rarer, pumped out, capped, or abandoned. Conventional production has peaked, and demand keeps rising. To survive, the petroleum industry is betting heavily on “unconventional” reservoirs, shales and sands from which oil or gas can’t just be pumped. Imagine sponges soaked in petroleum, then hardened. Tar sands are boiled to release crude oil. Shales must be “fracked” (hydraulically fractured) by pumping huge volumes of water and chemicals under extreme pressure to crack bedrock so its riches flow. There was even one attempt to nuke petroleum loose, with radioactive results. Unconventional reserves, many believe, will dwarf conventional ones. The International Energy Agency predicted in 2009 that U.S. shale gas may be triple the nation’s conventional total. In some played-out conventional fields, fracking old wells may release half again their former production. Fracking is profitable, enough to perpetuate our fossil-fuel addiction, enough to deny fracking’s documented risks.”
Fracking sites are all about function. There is definitely no formal consideration, and not much regard for anything else. They tend to be large, cleared portions of land roughly two acres in size, simple in form and mostly consisting of a giant gravel yard with a few storage tanks and other machinery. Hosting hundreds and even thousands of trucks for supply, the layout is based on the necessity for these vehicles to deliver water and drilling equipment. The sites are typically configured in a dense, grid-like pattern and there may easily be hundreds within a few square miles of a producing area.
While it’s obvious that this practice is cosmetically problematic, the environmental and ecological issues that accompany any destruction of native landscapes also leap to mind. I don’t believe these “fracked” landscapes have to be the way they are. As landscape architects who regularly discern genuine values in land and water, and who deal with aesthetics, the environment, and other sciences on a daily basis, this disaster presents an opportunity for us to contribute potential solutions and to be heard as professionals.
What kind of ideas can we generate to make these fracking sites less of an impact on our landscapes? Can we work with engineers to improve the functionality of them through planning and design while preserving the necessary function and flexibility? Can we work with them to provide solutions for reducing the overall site footprint? Can we create a best practice strategy to mitigate the damages from the process (perhaps beginning with a simple tree-centered plan to make up for a portion of the lost trees on an older fracked site)? Is it possible to hide these sites? Or, are there landscape restoration plans that we can develop? We could even take it as far as meeting with and encouraging energy companies to engage in more considered strategies.
I believe that we can offer strong ideas for protecting, improving, and restoring these abused landscapes and I hope to do so with further research and creative design solutions. I invite others to join this discussion now.
Check out Sorvig’s entire article about his personal experience with fracking here: http://landscapearchitecturemagazine.org/2013/06/27/welcome-to-frackville/
Those unfamiliar with the Houston office’s innovative Keystone proposal can find it in the most recent IDEAS journal: http://www.swagroup.com/ideas/swa-ideas-journal
Images are courtesy of Jonathan Tauzin (top), the U.S. Geological Survey (left, middle), and USDA Farm Service Agency (right).