Fracking is a process of hydraulic fracturing which helps to remove natural gas and crude oil from under the ground. Workers inject liquids at high pressures into subterranean rocks, holes they have bored, and similar access points the force open any existing fissures that exist. This process then makes it possible to extract the fossil fuels that are useful in multiple ways.
Hydraulic fracturing is a process which makes it cheaper and easier to access fossil fuels, making it possible to create new products and resources that help the economy. It creates high-paying jobs in many communities, offers indirect employment support, and may create a minimal impact on the environment when performed correctly.
Some would also argue that any use of fossil fuels creates the potential for a negative impact to occur in the environment, so fracking creates a more significant temptation to consume at levels which are beyond our current means.
These fracking pros and cons examine the issue to see if there is a balance that can be found between the energy resources necessary for our current lifestyle and our requirement to protect the environment.
List of the Pros of Fracking
1. Fracking creates an independent energy resource, especially in the United States.
Hydraulic fracturing gives each country an opportunity to develop their own energy resources. That makes it possible for them to begin reducing foreign reliance on this need. When a nation depends on someone else to supply them with products like oil or natural gas for a majority of their needs, then this reliance creates an unhealthy relationship where the supplier can essentially hold the purchaser hostage to any price demands. Fracking reduces this threat.
2. Fracking uses natural materials to create results.
Only 0.5% of the typical fracking solution contains chemicals that help to release the fossil fuels that are struck in the strata underground. These products are similar to what the average person uses at home. Although there are legitimate concerns about releasing chemicals in areas where a water supply is available, the actions that workers take to protect this natural resource meets or exceeds (in most cases) what communities have available to them with their wastewater treatment facilities.
3. Fracking can lower property taxes for homeowners.
Over $7.6 billion in payroll has gone through the state of Colorado in recent years because of the fracking opportunities that are present there. Companies involved in this work have sent hundreds of millions of dollars to local schools. Some districts have been able to take these funds to keep their budget in the black without the need to increase their property tax levies. A few have even managed to lower their taxation requests because of these funds. Several million dollars has gone into locally-based public works projects too. These revenues wouldn’t exist without the access to oil and gas that this activity provides.
4. Fracking utilizes a stable extraction process.
Although some fracking activities have led to minor earthquakes in the Great Plains and the Midwest in the United States, these outcomes are more of the exception than the rule. Thousands of wells, boreholes, and access points are created each year that take advantage of hydraulic fracturing technologies without triggering such an event. The extraction process is stable, and ongoing research into the few events that do occur looks to minimize this issue for population centers even further.
5. Fracking does not create permanent damage.
Every borehole, well, or access point that is created through the fracking process is a targeted operation. Rigs will go to where the highest potential of success happens to be. Scouting work helps to identify which geographic regions are the most likely to contain natural gas and crude oil that this extraction process can access. Once the resources are tapped, then the drilling operations will cease. Structures are installed to help the well operate automatically with minimal maintenance. It is a process which leaves minimal scarring on the geography of a region when performed correctly.
6. Fracking uses low water intensity processes to access resources.
One of the primary concerns that people have with hydraulic fracturing is the use of high-pressure water that could force the chemicals used during the work into groundwater unintentionally. Workers who are fracking will use an intensity level that is lower that almost every other fuel-based power generation method that generates energy for consumption. Not only does this prevent leaks from occurring, but it also uses up to ten times less water per energy unit than nuclear power. It is 1,000 times more efficient to be fracking than it is to be processing corn or sugarcane into ethanol.
7. Fracking does not impact local water tables.
The Environmental Protection Agency conducted a 5-year study on the impacts of fracking and water contamination issues and found that the two were not linked. Testimony from the department before Congress as late as 2011 found that there were no proven cases of water contamination because of modern fracking activities. Some within the department (which testified during the Obama Administration) even stated that when looking at all forms of energy extraction that are available, hydraulic fracturing was one of the safest options currently available.
8. Fracking boosts all elements of the energy sector.
One of the hidden benefits of hydraulic fracturing come in the form of dividends, stock equity, and asset growth that are found in numerous 401k plans, 403b retirements, IRAs, and investment portfolios. Investors use energy stocks as a way to encourage aggressive growth with their wealth because of their unpredictability. The availability of hydraulic fracturing makes it possible to experience this growth, invest in rural communities, create jobs, and lower energy costs for homes – which are all ways that people can begin saving for the future.
9. Fracking reduces the needs to use dirtier energy resources.
The increase in hydraulic fracturing activities in the United States coincides with a sharp decrease in the amount of coal being consumed to generate energy resources such as electricity. In fewer than ten years, the growth of the fracking industry helped to reduce the coal-fired portion of electricity generation from over 50% to just 32%. Natural gas use climbed from 20% to 30% of the basic energy needs. Since there are fewer particulates or greenhouse gases generated from this process, it helps to create a cleaner environment.
10. Fracking can capture the harmful emissions that it does generate.
The development of clean coal filtering technologies as a way to reduce emissions has helped to create new ways that hydraulic fracturing can follow the same process. One of the most essential benefits of this advantage is the industry’s ability to capture methane before it releases into the atmosphere. The impact that this greenhouse gas has on the environment is five times greater than the potential damage that carbon dioxide could cause. Introducing new filters that could further reduce the impact we generate through energy creation would have a net positive result for everyone involved.
11. Fracking does not usually occur above the groundwater tables.
The reason why fracking does not seem to create contamination issues with groundwater tables is that most of the natural resources we want to access with this process are located beneath them. When workers create a borehole into the ground to release the oil or gas located there, a protective lining is placed in the shaft as it continues to dig into the earth. This process prevents the water tables from being negatively impacted while the energy resources are extracted from the well.
Is there a risk that a leak or failure could occur with this process? Of course. No method of resource generation is 100% safe. What we do know is that hydraulic fracturing is one of the most useful methods of collection that we have today.
List of the Cons of Fracking
1. Fracking reduces the chance for disrupters to create innovative new methods.
When we rely on hydraulic fracturing activities as a way to generate the energy we require, then it limits our attention in the research and development of newer, potentially better technologies. Our funding of this industry could draw money away from opportunities that could be available in the renewables sector of energy development, which is even cleaner than the products offered by this industry. Although we have more than a generation’s worth of energy kept in storage, the sun provides us with enough in a single day to fuel our world for an entire year.
2. Fracking appears clean because tracking mechanisms are not always accurate.
The greenhouse gas emissions that come from hydraulic fracturing are not always accurately tracked. Monitoring activities are sometimes not even present when workers are in the middle of their work. CleanTechnica reports that the emissions from fracking activities are five times higher than what are reported due to research published by the Environmental Defense Fund. NASA concludes from their research that a majority of the methane increase found in the atmosphere comes from oil and gas activities.
3. Fracking is only a moderate reducer of emissions at best.
Even if the research which suggests that emissions are under-reported is 100% false, the data we do have does show that using the oil and natural gas from hydraulic fracturing only provides a moderate benefit compared to other options. If we move from coal-fired energy consumption to natural gas, then yes – fracking seems to be a better option. When we compare fracking with renewables that include geothermal, hydropower, or wind energy, then it is nowhere as effective at reducing emission levels.
4. Fracking offers unknown consequences for the future.
Assuming that the air quality improvements do occur over time as we transition from traditional coal to fracking and clean coal processing, we still do not know what the long-term consequences of hydraulic fracturing will be. Although this process has been known for several decades, it only started to become popular in the 1970s and 1980s as a method of energy extraction. What we do know from data collected in North Dakota and Colorado is that the areas where this process is used frequently tend to have higher levels of ozone – a lung irritant – compared to regions where fracking is minimal.
5. Fracking can leak high levels of methane during the extraction process.
We cannot ignore the impact that methane has on the environment. It is one of the most potent and harmful pollutants that comes from the fracking process. Cornell University found that the number of leaks that are in the typical fracking process, from start to finish, are high enough that they wash out the advantages that we generate when switching from traditional coal to natural gas.
6. Fracking could contaminate drinking water when not performed correctly.
The issue with fracking and water contamination does seem to be minimal when the processes is used occasionally to access energy resources. Research published by the National Academy of Sciences found that frequent hydraulic fracturing does create the potential for groundwater contamination if the drilling process is not finished as it should be. Methane is just as dangerous in the water tables as it is in the atmosphere. When enough of it gets into the supply, then the liquid can become flammable.
We’ve already seen the Cuyahoga River burn because of the industrial contaminants contained in the water. Now imagine what could happen if underground resources experienced a similar outcome. That’s why the risks of hydraulic fracturing must be taken seriously.
7. Fracking creates higher levels of consumption.
Having access to more affordable energy resources helps the budget of the average household stretch further. The dip in natural gas costs for heating and cooling needs as helped many families stay on their feet during challenging circumstances. There is no denying the benefits of having well-funded schools, lower taxes, and more jobs available because of fracking efforts. These higher levels of consumption can create a negative impact on our environment, communities, and homes if we are not careful. We must always remember to proceed with moderation, even if we can afford to consume more.
8. Fracking keeps a lot of trade secrets that we don’t understand right now.
When looking at the advantage of fracking that discusses how most of the fluid is free from chemicals, what becomes concerning is the fact that we don’t know what those ingredients are as of yet. The industry states that the 0.5% which is chemically-based are the same products that people use in their homes. Up to 20% of these items are listed as being proprietary mixtures, which means the profile of the substance being used does not need to be published publicly.
Even if the industry is using home-based chemicals in their slurry, the fact remains that most people don’t mix water with bleach and then drink it. That wouldn’t be safe. The threshold of exposure for some chemicals is extremely low. Unless we can know more about what is going into the ground, the wiser course of action is to be cautious about the results that are possible.
9. Fracking creates additional pollution issues to consider as well.
If the methane leaks and groundwater concerns weren’t enough for some communities to manage, there is also the noise issues that rigs generate when they are fracking. Most operations continue on a 24/7 schedule until the natural resources become accessible. Some are near residential areas. Even in rural spaces, many homeowners can hear rigs operating unless their home comes with double-pane windows.
The average operation creates a noise level of 68 decibels, which is the equivalent of a lawn mower operating right outside your home. That noise level does not start to diminish until you are 700 yards away from the rig.
10. Fracking creates an ethical question about water use.
The average well requires up to 8 million gallons of water before the energy resources underground become accessible. The same well can go through the hydraulic fracturing process several times before it becomes a viable resource. There are currently 1.7 million active wells in the United States that were started through this process. Multiply that figure by the amount of water used and that is a significant sum. When there are places in the world coping with prolonged drought or reduced access to drinking water, one must question the use of water to access oil or natural gas deposits.
11. Fracking creates air pollution concerns for rig workers.
Oregon State University found that people who work on active rigs that are fracking, as well as anyone who lives or works near them, could be exposed to higher pollutant levels than what the EPA considers safe for an entire lifetime. The issue here is the emission of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, some of which have links to an increase risk of respiratory ailments and some cancers. Additional evidence from other published studies suggests that there are higher risks of blood disorders, birth defects, and problems with the central nervous system. Continued exposure based on proximity to the work creates higher concentration levels.
12. Fracking does create earthquakes.
The number of earthquakes registered in the United States since the late 1960s has risen from 21 to over 1,000 per year. Many of the new quakes appear to be artificially generated based on the data collected by the USGS. With some coming close to 6.0 in strength, we must question if fracking is a contributing factor to this event.
These fracking pros and cons take a realistic look at this industry to see what the advantages or disadvantages may be. The bottom line here is that we can see there are potential short-term gains to find, but this activity could also have devastating long-term consequences that we do not entirely understand. Until we know more about hydraulic fracturing, a cautious approach to this industry seems to be a reasonable position to take.
Brandon Miller has a B.A. from the University of Texas at Austin. He is a seasoned writer who has written over one hundred articles, which have been read by over 500,000 people. If you have any comments or concerns about this blog post, then please contact the Green Garage team here.