Oil from fracking isn’t good for asphalt


Thomas McCort’s Nov. 1 letter regarding fracking is long on propaganda and completely devoid of facts.

Asphalt is a byproduct of the refining process. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, all other of the 16 classified types of refined product categories – of which gasoline and distillate fuel oils (of which diesel constitutes the majority) account for about 70 percent of the total – account for 98 percent of the products produced from crude. Asphalt is literally the leftovers after almost every other possible product is distilled from crude, as asphalt does not boil off like almost every other product produced from crude oil.

Not all crude is the same. Crude comes in a spectrum of specific gravities, concentration of hydrocarbon chains, and other qualities. Crudes suitable for asphalt production have higher amounts of heavier hydrocarbons by volume than tight oil (which is what is being produced by fracking and accounts for a record high fraction – about 34 percent – of total U.S. production due to fracking), which has a very high specific gravity and, relative to heavier oils, very little of the hydrocarbon chains by volume needed for asphalt production. Refer back to your high school physics and chemistry classes if you’re confused at this point.

Tight oil is simply not a particularly suitable type of crude from which to produce asphalt. Period. Promoting fracking for tight oil will never, ever change that fact, regardless of what Mr. Trump or Mr. McCort want anyone to believe.

Asphalt production has declined in recent years because refiners have chosen to update their refineries to accommodate tight oil over heavy oil because, with their newer production units, they are able to squeeze more of the higher-valued products (i.e., gasoline and distillate fuel oils) out of a gallon of crude than ever before, leaving less leftovers from which to produce everything else – including asphalt. Put simply, gasoline and diesel demand combined with fracking for tight oil are squeezing out asphalt.

Contrary to what Mr. McCort chooses to believe, promoting fracking is counterproductive if the goal is to produce more asphalt. Banning fracking would produce the intended effect, as we would have to substitute for heavier oils that are more suitable for asphalt production.

So, if Mr. McCort is concerned about asphalt and thinks Trump is the answer, then I would recommend that he read ... almost anything at all on the subject.

Justin Bowen

Commerce Township