The following post is part of a research paper that I completed earlier this semester on fracking. This will hopefully be an insightful post that explains what fracking is, the positives and negatives, as well as what it means for us and our environment. This post shows both sides of the issue and uses information from many different sources. The more popular fracking becomes, the more important it is for others to understand what it is.
“Fracking, cleaner energy, dirtier water.” Hydraulic fracturing, more commonly known as, “fracking”, is the process by which natural gas is extracted from underground rock layers. The process of hydraulic fracturing involves the pumping of high pressurized fluid into the underground rock layers through horizontal wells. As this fluid is pumped into the wells, cracks in the shale are formed and the natural gas is released. The gas comes back up through the wells to the surface where it is processed and refined (cleanwater.org). Fracking has become a very popular, yet controversial topic amongst many, from scientists to politicians.
Hydraulic fracturing is becoming increasingly popular, and more widely used. It has even been called, “our decade’s green-energy option”(Lomborg). If fracking is going to become our decades green-energy option, it is important to understand what fracking is, as well as the benefits and risks it has, but more importantly what it means for our environment. The natural gas that is extracted releases less carbon dioxide into our atmosphere. It is cleaner than the burning of coal or the usage of other fossil fuels. Natural gas also decreases our dependence on foreign oil and is much more inexpensive. Some supporters of fracking believe that other clean energy options such as wind and solar power are just not getting the job done. “The use of natural gas has a greater and more positive impact on our economy as well as our environment. “It is tempting to believe that renewable energy sources are responsible for emissions reductions, but the numbers clearly say otherwise. Accounting for a reduction of 50 megatons of CO2 per year, America’s 30,000 wind turbines reduce emissions by just one-10th the amount that natural gas does. Biofuels reduce emissions by only 10 megatons, and solar panels by a paltry three megatons” (Lomborg). While fracking seems to be cleaner and inexpensive, there are still many factors that need to be addressed. There are many unknown chemicals that are being used along with the water to help fracture underground shale. There have also been a number of earthquakes near fracking sites all across the country. Hydraulic fracturing has the potential to greatly contaminate our water sources and may already be doing so.
Fracking has it fair share of supporters and skeptics. The supporters are positive that this is a good option for our economy as well as our environment. One supporter and writer for the Project Syndicate, Bjorn Lomborg, writes, “For starters, fracking has caused gas prices to drop dramatically. Adjusted for inflation, natural gas has not been this cheap for the past 35 years, with the price this year three to five times lower than it was in the mid-2000s. And, while a flagging economy may explain a small portion of the drop in U.S. carbon emissions, the EIA emphasizes that the major explanation is natural gas.” Lomborg also states that U.S. carbon emissions are at their lowest in 20 years, but does not attribute this to other alternative energy sources such as wind and solar power. He states that wind and solar power are only contributing to a small percentage of the decrease in emissions. Other supporters believe fracking can not only help the economy and the environment, but it can provide families with financial stability. Many of these fracking companies are paying families, including farmers, to sell their land for a very pretty penny. In most cases these companies offer these people such large amounts of money that it is hard for them to refuse. These companies provide these families with an opportunity to essentially start a new life somewhere else, and leave their land behind to be used as a fracking site. Hydraulic fracturing provides us with the opportunity to decrease the carbon dioxide emissions, provide financial stability, and put a stop to our long struggle with our dependence on foreign oil. While these factors all seem quite positive there is also a high amount of skepticism when it comes to fracking. Those who oppose fracking believe there are just too many risks. Fracking can, and has already had negative impacts on our environment. One of the largest problems when it comes to fracking is how highly unregulated the process is. Fracking is exempt from or has loopholes in many important federal environmental regulations such as the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act(edcnet.org). These loopholes and lack of regulation are probably the scariest and most intimidating factors to many skeptics. Aside from the lack of regulation, fracking has many other environmental risks. There have been several earthquakes that have occurred in different parts of the U.S. near fracking sites. It is believed that some of these earthquakes happened as a direct result of the fracking process. Fracking can also lead to the contamination of our water sources. One story that demonstrates what could happen to our water as a result of fracking took place in very close proximity to a fracking site. The Kline family had their tap water catch on fire. Before the drilling began the family’s water was tested and the methane levels were recorded at a 9, which is a safe level. After months of fracking the water was tested again and the new methane levels were recorded at a 22 (todaysnews.today.com). There was a recent study done to see if fracking can really lead to flammable tap water. The research was conducted by four scientists at Duke University. “They found that levels of flammable methane gas in drinking water wells increased to dangerous levels when those water supplies were close to natural gas wells. They also found that the type of gas detected at high levels in the water was the same type of gas that energy companies were extracting from thousands of feet underground”(propublica.org). While fracking contaminates our water resources it also depletes our water supply. One company stated that it would be withdrawing 1.5 million gallons of water per day to sell to fracking companies. Due to the loopholes in laws and regulations the disposal of the unused water is also a concern. If fracking water is not disposed of properly it will have negative impacts on many different aspects of the environment,including ecosystems, and even the food we eat. There are many stories from farmers who own land in very close proximity to fracking sites. There are many different stories of cows losing their tails, becoming very ill from the water, and even dying after drinking contaminated water. The animals had come into contact with wastewater that leaked from a nearby well that showed concentrations of chlorine, barium, magnesium, potassium, and radioactive strontium. In Louisiana, 17 cows that drank fluid from a fracked well began bellowing, foaming and bleeding at the mouth, then dropped dead. Homeowners near fracked sites complain about a host of frightening consequences, from poisoned wells to sickened pets to debilitating illnesses(thenation.com). If fracking is contaminating so many farms what does that mean for our food? There is also the potential for spills of these chemicals, and if there are so many unregulated aspects of fracking, they may not properly clean up the spills. Among all the environmental risks that come along with fracking, do we really want to look around and see huge fracking sites where flourishing land and farms once stood?
There are pros and cons when it comes to fracking, but thus far the bad seems to outweigh the good. Heavy regulation must be put on these companies to ensure that they are taking the proper precautions to protect the environment. With all the loopholes within important laws and regulations, fracking can never be a positive thing for us or our environment. We must make it a priority to stop fracking or make sure it will be done in the right way. If fracking continues the way it is we will deplete our water sources, contaminate our land and water, and continue to drastically harm the environment. With all of these pros and cons it seems possible that we are jumping on board to quickly with this new technology. It would have been more beneficial to study and research all of the negative effects of fracking. It is necessary for our government to take a step back and have extensive research done on all of the possible effects of fracking before it continues the way it is. While some research has been done after several earthquakes occurred in different parts of the country, there needs to be much more research done in order to fully understand what fracking can do, as well as ways to make fracking less harmful. This research will take time and money, but it is essential for our health as well as the environments.
Hydraulic fracturing has been around for much longer than one might think. The process of fracking dates back to as early as the 1860’s. It was applied by oil producers in Pennsylvania, New York, Kentucky, and West Virginiaby using liquid and solidified nitroglycerin. As the idea grew, the idea to use acid as a nonexplosive fluid for well stimulation was introduced in the 1930s (Wikipedia). After many years of of experimenting with different approaches and techniques, in the 1970’s the United States government initiated the Eastern Gas Shales Project, a set of dozens of public-private hydraulic fracturing pilot demonstration projects. In 1977, the Department of Energy pioneered massive hydraulic fracturing in tight sandstone formations. In 1997, based on earlier techniques used by Union Pacific Resources, Mitchell Energy, now part of Devon Energy, developed the hydraulic fracturing technique known as “slickwater fracturing” which involves adding chemicals to water to increase the fluid flow, that made the shale gas extraction economical(Wikipedia). This “silkwater fracturing” is fracking as we know it today.
When considering how long fracking has been around, as well as the amount of time and money that went into it’s development, it is difficult to imagine that fracking will just be done away with. For more than 30 years the federal government has contributed more than $100 million in research to develop fracking, and billions more in taxbreaks (HuffingtonPost.com). If the federal government is so supportive and invested in a project such as fracking, it seems almost impossible to completely stop it. While we can try our hardest to bring an end to fracking, right now we may need to shift our focus. What needs to be done is stricter laws, regulations, and oversight on all fracking sites. There needs to be much more extensive research done to understand the negative effects consequences of fracking, as well as what harm can be done to the environment. There needs to be limits and rules set. There also needs to be very serious consequences for those who violate any of the rules or laws. While it does seem almost impossible for fracking to be “safe”, it is very important that only the safest methods are used, strict laws put in place, and serious punishments for violators. Our health along with the environments health must be the first priority. This may be our best bet if fracking has to stick around.
While the government may say fracking is a good option and fracking companies must abide by the United States laws, the truth is that this is just not the case. There are loopholes in many federal laws such as the Clean Water Act,the Safe Drinking Water Act, as well as the Clean Air Act. One of the most well-known loopholes is called the, “Halliburton Loophole,” an exemption for gas drilling and extraction from requirements in the underground injection control (UIC) program of the Safe Drinking Water Act. The Clean Water Act was enacted to protect and improve water quality in the nation’s rivers, streams, creeks, and wetlands. One of the major mechanisms it uses to achieve this goal is by requiring permits for all discharges of pollutants to those waters. The law, however, exempts storm water discharges (surface water runoff resulting from rain or snow) from oil and gas drilling and production activities from this permitting requirement. Oil and gas exploration and production wastes are exempted from the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act. Oil and gas companies are also exempt from the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. The Environmental Protection Agency finalized a study in 1988 that, “regulation of hazardous oil and gas waste under RCRA was unnecessary. EPA made its decision despite acknowledging that exempted wastes (including oily sludges, workover wastes, and well completion and abandonment wastes), are known to contain toxic substances including benzene, lead, arsenic, phenatnthrene, barium, and uranium at levels that exceed 100 times EPA’s health-based standards”(edcnet.org). Finally, oil and gas companies are exempt from the Clean Air Act. “Normally when numerous small sources of air pollution, such as individual oil and gas wells and associated facilities, are under common control and in close proximity they are treated as a “major source” subject to stringent Clean Air Act technology requirements. Oil and gas production, however, is exempted from this “aggregation” requirement(edcnet.org). Many of these loopholes were set in place in 2005 during the Bush administration. There are some revisions being made, especially state wide. Some are placing stricter regulations on fracking, while others are not so good. A bill that passed in Ohio in May of 2012 is being called one of the worst laws passed by Ohio. This bill, “SB 315, will allow health and safety loopholes. It requires the gas industry to pay less than almost any other state in the country, exposing our communities to the worst excesses of the fracking industry. Doctors will be prevented from talking openly about the sickness they see in their patients, and the gas industry will keep profits flowing out of our communities”(ecowatch.org). President Obama has become a supporter of fracking and has stated in his most recent State of the Union address that we are no longer so dependent on foreign oil and also that our carbon emissions have been reduced. However he also states that, “Indeed, much of our new-found energy is drawn from lands and waters that we, the public, own together. So tonight, I propose we use some of our oil and gas revenues to fund an EnergySecurity Trust that will drive new research and technology to shift our cars and trucks off oil for good”(Forbes.com). While clearly resolutions are in their early stages, this is hopefully a sign of a brighter, cleaner, and more environmentally-friendly alternatives, because what we really need is to movement towards solutions that do not involve the destruction of the environment.
There are alternatives to fracking that are more environmentally-friendly, yet can still provide us with the energy we need. When thinking about energy consumption it is important to keep in mind resources we can use that are endless. We need to think about the long term effects, not just the short term gains. The first green-energy options that come to mind are wind and solar power. The wind and the sun are both resources that we have an endless supply of. While it may be expensive to build wind turbines and solar panels, this will be more beneficial to us in the long run. One biofuel option is,“algae fuel”, which uses algae rather than fossil fuels. “Harvested algae, like fossil fuel, release carbon dioxide when burnt but unlike fossil fuel the carbon dioxide is taken out of the atmosphere by the growing of algae and other biofuel sources. The algae would be grown on land that is not suitable for agriculture and can be grown with minimal impact on fresh water resources. They can also be produced using ocean and wastewater, and are biodegradable and relatively harmless to the environment if spilled”(Wikipedia). There is another green-energy option that is fairly new but seems to be a much better option than fracking, and it is much more helpful to the environment. This new technique is called “HyperSolar”. This technology uses sunlight and nanoparticles to produce natural gas from wastewater. The more people around the world consume energy and industrialize their lives, the more wastewater there will be for us to make renewable natural gas. The process uses millions of nanoparticles. These particles contain semiconductor material and function as self-contained photo electrochemical systems. When sunlight hits the particles, an electric charge is generated, driving chemical reactions to form hydrogen at the cathode and oxidizing water at the anode. From there, the hydrogen is combined with carbon dioxide to form methane, which is the main component of natural gas. The oxidation part of the process cleans the water”(discover.new.com). This is a process that would provide natural gas as well as clean water, and could overall be very beneficial to consumers as well as to the environment.
With so many alternatives that are much safer and eco-friendly I find myself asking why fracking? Why so many loopholes, so many secrets, and so many negative consequences if it is such a great energy option? I also find myself asking what we can do to either stop this or make sure these companies are actually following the laws. The first steps we can take are to spread awareness on fracking. We have to educate our communities on the dangers of fracking as well as the risks associated with it. We have to make people aware of the risks it poses to us as well as the adverse affects it can have on our environment. We can do this just by talking and informing others. Flyers could also be passed out. There are many websites dedicated to stopping fracking. One website to gain knowledge as well as to take initiative to stop fracking is “nofracking.com”. One very effective method is to vote. Voting is very important. Vote for the right candidates as well as on your county’s legislation. There are smaller scale things as well, such as signing petitions, filmaking, or even sharing a personal story of how you have been affected by fracking. Many personal, real life stories have helped in the efforts to change the ways of fracking. There are even websites to report any sort of illegal activity you have seen. There has recently been a lawsuit has filed against an energy company. “Ben Lupo, the owner of D&L Energy and Hardrock Excavating who admitted to investigators he ordered chemically-laced brine water dumped into a storm sewer that empties into the Mahoning River, has been charged with the state’s first crimes relating to illegal dumping by the shale drilling industry. The charge carries a penalty of three years in federal prison and a $50,000 per-day fine for each day the violation occurs. Lupo told investigators in his admission that the first brine dump was in September, meaning Lupo could face as much as $1.5 million in fines”(wkbn.com). This lawsuit will hopefully lead to more lawsuits against those who are using illegal methods. This will also hopefully be an eye-opener to other oil and gas companies. While it seems some of the tools to limit or stop fracking does not seem like enough, it will hopefully lead to a rise in pressure on the government to make the environment the top priority in this situation.
Hydraulic Fracturing has some indisputable positive aspects. The United States can become dependent on itself for energy. We will no longer have to rely on foreign countries for oil, carbon emissions have and will continue to decrease, natural gas is a cleaner and cheaper energy option. These are all very positive things for the United States, but regardless of the positive aspects of fracking, there are even more undeniable negative effects of fracking. If we continue to frack we are putting ourselves and our environment at risk; this is much more important than any other factor. Fracking has lead to earthquakes, water contamination, food contamination, methane emissions, sickness, even tap water catching on fire. This does not seem to be our decades “green-energy option”. There is no way it can continue the way it is without jeopardizing our environment. Fracking as we know it today must change.
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