Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” as it has come to be known in the popular lexicon, is the process of drilling and injecting fluid into the ground at a high pressure in order to fracture shale rocks so they release the natural gas or oil inside. Despite the relatively recent emergence of the term, fracking has been successfully utilized in commercial operations since the late 1940s.
However, the process remained largely untapped until the last decade, as newly available technologies have allowed for wider corporate margins in the utilization of the technology. As global demand for energy has skyrocketed over the past generation, the coincidence of rising oil prices and falling costs of natural gas exploration through the use of fracking has lead to a surge in the use of the hydraulic technology. In the same way that the Middle East has economically benefited from oil reserves, the United States hopes to benefit from its large potential for use and export of natural gas through fracking.
Although the use of fracking does provide the potential for great economic optimism, one must also take into account the prospective negatives before embarking on a large-scale use or state approval or subsidization of the technology. American families are still recovering from the economic turmoil begotten by the “Great Recession” of the past decade, and the hopes of employment and lower costs to consumers are difficult to ignore.
IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates reported this week that in 2012, the energy boom supported 2.1 million jobs, added almost $75 billion in federal and state revenues, contributed $283 billion to the gross domestic product, and lifted household income by more than $1,200. At a time of tepid economic recovery and more than 4 million Americans receiving welfare and nearly 47 million on food stamps, it is difficult to take the “moral high ground” and oppose the potential economic benefits of fracking.
Despite the generally accepted economic benefits of fracking, there is little dissent that perpetuating a system of non-renewable energy is not without risk. Injecting water, sand and chemicals into the ground at high pressure to create pathways for trapped oil and gas to escape can tamper with watersheds beneath the surface of the drilling sites and, eventually, possibly infect the nearby lands with the oils and gases meant to be extracted.
Research published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, on the impact of drilling in the Marcellus Shale, which stretches from north-eastern Pennsylvania to southeastern New York, found that four-fifths of nearby wells contained methane and that concentrations of gas in the water in nearby homes were far higher than in those further away.
Contaminated well water is used for drinking water for nearby cities and towns. Other studies have found over 1,000 documented cases of water contamination next to areas of gas drilling as well as cases of sensory, respiratory, and neurological damage due to ingested contaminated water. Additionally, less than half of the fracturing fluid is reported to be recovered, the rest of the toxic fluid is left in the ground and is not biodegradable. Though not all wells throughout the United States have been contaminated in the last decade, one must wonder what the future repercussions of such actions will be.
The current debate on fracking is consequential as worldwide production of natural gas is forecast to grow by 50 percent by 2035, with shale and other “unconventional” sources accounting for two thirds of the growth. Much of the media’s coverage of the fracking debate frames the issue as a Hobson’s choice between speculative economic gain on the one hand and a continuing of the perpetual destruction of bucolic landscapes and access to clean watersheds on the other. Even environmentalists need not be diametrically opposed to fracking.
Natural gas is cleaner than fuels such as coal. The International Energy Agency reports that America’s carbon emissions fell by 450m tonnes in the five years prior to 2012, partly because coal was swapped for the gas made available by fracking. In Europe, where expensive gas has led to greater reliance on coal-fired power stations, emissions have not fallen by much. Careful regulation can reduce risks by ensuring that well-shafts are leak-proof and that regurgitated gunk is safely collected. The International Energy Agency reckons that proper regulation would add just about 7 percent to the cost of each shale-gas well.
Few of the pundits seem to indicate that there in fact exists a clear middle ground. Establishing a fully effective system of safeguards for hydraulic fracturing to protect our health while still allowing fracking and natural gas exploration can allow for access to energy from sources cleaner than coal. Meanwhile, technology that allows for cheaper, safer, and renewable energy sources can still develop at the same time.
On this issue at least, the media seems to be perpetuating only parts of the story on fracking, a practice antithetical to our democratic system of government. It seems too often that this is par for the course in an information age where informed civil discourse has seemed to have gone the way of the printing press. It has yielded to an ideological punditry that speaks only in agreed-upon talking points and too often misinforms the public on important information. Is it too much to ask that our elected officials know the whole story before they render decisions that may irrefutably alter both our planet and economies? Only time will tell whether reasoned pragmatism will be allowed a moment at the table before America reaches a decision on fracking.
Join the discussion Please be relevant and respectful.
They started fracking in PA around 1996, since then, the Susquehanna river went from the top ten bass fishing rivers in the country to around #47. The juniata river ain't doing too great either.
Can't be a coincidence
Everything in life has risks, even walking down the street. Energy production is no different. Hydraulic Fracturing can be, and is done safely every day. We lead the world in this technology. We are able to 'frac' with a 100,000 to 1 safety margin. That's right, for every REAL case of contamination there are over 100,000 production zones safely fractured. How many industries have a record that good? Everyday, the industry gets better and safer.
This in turn provides prosperity for every American through inexpensive energy and jobs.
We live in a period where our energy supply dictates how comfortable and prosperous we will be.
Some want to move away from fossil fuels, not understanding that they are a part of everything we use and do. We are decades away from any real dependence on solar and wind energy. Most 'green' projects can't even pay for themselves and without huge govt. subsidies would disappear tomorrow. Oil and gas in my state alone pay 6 million dollars in tax revenues......EVERY DAY. God gave us everything we need, and it's right beneath our feet. Rather than forming opinions on myths and false science, lets look honestly at the benefits and dangers of this practice.
Lol the only people who are against fracturing are those whom don't have mineral right or gas/oil on there land. If you did you would love fracturing. Fracturing is safe proven safe and there's no K in the word. Idiots
I worked in the oil field fracking and acididizing wells we fracked wells at 40000 pounds pound plus using intenseifiers when you put that much pressure it send fishers in every directions and those idiots who think they don't communicate with water and other formations Those pressures or just nomal fracking will look like hittin a block of ice with a heavy hammer fishers will go up sideways and down from the intense pressure I have been on frack trucks that broke the cement lose and pumped the casing out of the ground the media doesn't get all the facts right. There are families who lives I have treated shallow wells with chemicals in one well and the would migrate to other wells on the lease somebody is lying and it ain't the landowner or the home owners
IF? A big IF. . . . . if "there in fact exists a clear middle ground." he says. "Establishing a fully effective system of safeguards for hydraulic fracturing" He says. Ok, just what would the author suggest? Nothing here. It is just more muddy the waters (no pun intended) coming from what appears to me to be more like the writing of a shrill for the fraking industry.
The Washington Times Monday, April 29, 2013
The state’s Department of Environmental Protection now says there is no evidence to connect natural gas drilling with high levels of methane in private water wells in the small town, which sits within the Marcellus Shale region, one of the largest known natural gas deposits in the world and exhibit A of how fracking is transforming the American energy landscape.
The agency specifically says the gas is coming from elsewhere.
“The testing determined that the water samples taken from the private water wells contained gas of similar isotopic makeup to the gas in water samples taken from Salt Springs State Park,” which contains high levels of naturally occurring methane, the DEP said in a statement.
Too many shmucks on this page such as Tom Oates who are about as educated as a postage stamp. Both political parties have their guilt and there is great energy ability out there that corporations are attempting to slow down in development but they are still progressing. On the flip side the "poisoning" is a liberal pushed idea that has no real substantial evidence.
Read something other than media articles that push their respective agendas and learn the real facts.
Notice to Energy Vampires: sStop poisoning our water and suppressing the thousands of patents that would make clean energy dirt cheap.
Honestly, yes, it is too much to ask. People would freak out if they knew the whole story behind everything. Bread and Circuses!!!
Depending upon the size of the well of course, the volume of water alone necessary to frack a well is around 4.4 MILLION GALLONS http://stateimpact.npr.org/pennsylvania/2013/03/12/how-much-water-it-takes-to-frack-a-well/ now multiply that by the estimated 397,000 wells using fracturing as a method of obtaining gas and the volume of water is astounding 1.7 BILLION gallons of water. This in a time when water is disappearing before our eyes, they shoot it into the ground mixed with chemicals never to be seen or usable again. Besides not safe, it's a huge waste of the precious resource on the planet - water.
When the last river is polluted and the last tree is cut down only then will people see you can't eat money.
I didn't see much of a "middle ground" case laid out in the linked article. Yes, natural gas is cleaner than coal, and fracking has made it cheap while making a handful of people very rich. But opening up another unsustainable pipe does nothing to solve our long-term energy needs.
My favorite Dr. Noam Chomsky quote, “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum....”
Is it too much to ask that our elected officials get their information from somewhere other than the media? Do they not have access to reports, studies, etc. that will help them make an informed decision?
This is a very important conversation to have. Too often, the debate revolves around activists on the one hand, and purely interested business advocates on the other hand. Little time is spent working with the legitimate concerns and interests on both sides coming to a more rationalized approach.