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Earth: The Resource Cauldron…

Earth's evolution as a planet has taken it through some cataclysmic geologic disruptions, all of which have defined its surface and subsurface characteristics and generated its natural resources, such as teeming oceanic basins, a fresh water hydrologic system, a hospitable atmosphere, a grand array of land-bound bio-diversity, precious metals and fossil fuels.

Tectonics, volcanism and cosmic collisions, together with extreme climates and the burgeoning and declining of plant and animal life over eons have all led to Earth's current conditions. The Earth, of course, continues to be the subject of the same dynamic, physical forces, though relatively subtly, as viewed through the narrowly focused lens of our own personal timelines.

Ancient atmospheric, hydrologic, geologic and biologic systems have left physical and chemical records of their former states. For instance, great shallow seas and tidal basins once dominated the surface of the Earth contributing to the build-up of organic matter. As these areas rich in organic matter became buried by more recent earth dynamics, the matter began to decompose creating reservoirs of coal, oil and gas, at varying depths within its stratified layers.

One way to visualize such stratigraphy is to visualize a simple core sample. The core is a stratigraphic column… a vertical view of horizontal layers reflecting varied composition and capable of being interpreted as a chronology of geologic influences.

All of the Earth's crust is similarly comprised of such layers - deposited long ago in various areas, at various thicknesses and comprised of not only voided pockets containing gases (such as air, natural gas or volcanic gases) or fluids (such as oil, or fresh, mineral or saline-laden water), but also a variety of minerals and carbon-based, organic materials. The matrix of faults and fissures pre-existing underground together with their hydrologically and gas-charged zones actually respirate, oxygenating and hydrating the earth to depth in certain areas and enriching it with microbial activity deep within the earth's crust - much like our own skin does through its pores and capillaries.

Shale layers can thin in certain areas, making them vulnerable to penetration. Areas, like anticlines and outcrops, may be possessed of a high number of vertical fractures and fissures, depending upon how they were formed. They are also likely to possess horizontal faults and fissures - all of which can tilt in planes. Further, they may possess great pressure at depth from groundwater hydrology pressing into buried geologic up-thrusts. Gas, located even within a mile (5,280 feet) of the surface could share similar high-pressure characteristics.

Within this geologic structure reside streams and pockets of underground water or hydrology, such as water-saturated sands. This water is often in some kind of motion, flowing laterally, pushed vertically or drawn deeper by gravitational forces - all at different rates depending on the geology through which it flows, which may be of differing porosity and conductive capacity. Underground water sources are fed from surface waters such as streams, snowpack and rainfall. They also express to the surface in the way of springs. All of this amounts to pre-existing hydro-geology, which can vary according to primary forces which long ago acted to shape local geology together with the source materials comprising it. Gas (like oil), generated long ago from earth forces and earth sources like the burial and gradual decomposition of organic matter, also resides in the hydro-geologic structure, but is often sealed in place unless disturbed by earth movement. This makes fossil fuels a desirable resource target - because, held in place, they can now be reliably tapped and produced.

This structure, however, also represents a virtual house of cards, neatly and carefully stacked, but vulnerable to nature's periodic upsets, such as earthquakes or volcanic activity. Because of these instabilities, such a matrix can introduce the gradual attenuation of introduced shallow gasses and hydrology into the surrounding environment at a rate that is moderate and generally absorbable without notice or significant negative impact. Such introductions of shallow gas into the environment have long supported the mining industry's preferred method of locating hydrocarbons for exploitation. Throughout our modern history, such prospecting is typically accomplished by surveying methane leaks at the surface which indicate the potential for reservoirs or seams of hydrocarbon fuels like gas, oil or coal at deeper depth.

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Hydraulic Fracturing: A Controversy and A Case for Evolved Negotiations,Part One: A Primer on Resource Extraction and Hydraulic Fracturing by Lisa Bracken

Copyright © 2012 Lisa Bracken
Copyright © 2012 The Negotiator Magazine
The Negotiator Magazine  (May, 2012)