Fracking is another term used for hydraulic fracturing, a procedure where rocks and rock formations are fractured to allow oil and gas to flow out. This is done by injecting fluid into cracks to force them to open further, making it easier to extract oil and gas. It has been around since 1949, when petroleum engineers were looking for other ways to increase well productions. It turned out to be very effective considering that there are more than 500,000 active natural gas wells in the U.S. alone.
States and even counties within states, vote to ban or allow fracking, so tracking which counties and states ban or allow fracking is a moving target. Just for example, in 2015, the Republican governor in Oklahoma, Mary Fallin, signed into law a bill that prohibited a ban on fracking in towns and cities in Oklahoma. This enabled the Oklahoma Corporation Commission to retain control over oil and gas drilling. This meant that localities were prohibited from debating or deciding whether or not oil and gas operations would be permitted within their jurisdiction. It is only when “reasonable restrictions,” such as noise and traffic concerns, applied that exceptions would be made.
States and counties across the U.S. have differing opinions on whether fracking should be allowed. For example, in 2016, Monterey County became the sixth California county to ban fracking. Then, in 2018, the state of Washington lifted its statewide fracking ban. In 2020, Governor Cuomo of New York introduced legislation to make New York’s state’s fracking ban permanent.
Here are some of the pros and cons of fracking.
List of Pros of Fracking
1. Access to Alternative Source of Fuel.
Cheap access to natural gas in the U.S. from fracking is seen as responsible for the 20% decline in coal usage from 2014 to 2016, according to Robert Jackson of Stanford University in a YaleClimateCoinnections.org article. Natural gas is a cleaner alternative to coal for energy use, and this shift is positive for the environment.
The overwhelming supply of oil and gas may seem a negative aspect today, but there will come a time when these resources become scarce again. Through fracking, whatever shortage the world will experience will be resolved. A continuous study into the effects of hydraulic fracturing will also lead to more innovative and safer ideas for extracting natural gas. When both traditional oil drilling and fracturing work hand in hand, fuel shortage could be completely avoided.
Because fracking can be done within local jurisdictions, it will also decrease a city’s or country’s dependency on foreign oil. Since the need for oil is likely to rise as the population increases, it pays to have an alternative and domestic source in mind. Time will come when daily oil exports across America will be lessened.
2. Reduce Surface Toxicity.
Fracking basically uses huge amounts of water, sand, and chemicals that are blasted deep into underground rock formations to crack them open. With the chemicals injected deep under the earth, they would cause lesser to no damage, as opposed to when they are released on the surface or in the air. They are less likely to pollute bodies of water, ensuring that humans stay safe and healthy.
Chemicals out of the way also mean improved air quality. Whatever toxins that would normally have been released into the air would no longer pose a threat. Moreover, when natural gas is used to generate electricity, there would be less dependency on coal and nuclear power plants. This can result in reduced carbon dioxide emissions that will also lead to a decrease in air pollution.
3. Lower Energy Cost.
With oil and gas produced locally, industries that greatly rely on these fuel resources can become more competitive due to lower energy costs. This is why many believed that fracking has positively transformed the energy situation in the U.S. This can also result in lower taxes, especially when exporting oil is minimized.
4. More Jobs.
In 2012, the oil and gas industry in America employed more than 1.2 million people and supported 9.8 million jobs, or 5.6% of total U.S. employment. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, from 2016-2018, approximately 636,000 jobs were directly related to oil and natural gas extraction (fracking). So fracking not only increased the supply of natural gas by 65%, but has increased the rate of employment as well. Moreover, it has made a positive impact on the economy, since it accounts for about $385 billion in direct economic activity, as reported in a Nature piece in 2012.
5. Buys More Time.
Until renewable energy is fully developed and made accessible to everyone, fracking will buy the world some time to turn such a plan into a reality. As John Podesta said, former chief of staff to President Clinton and former head of the Center for American Progress, it can serve “as a bridge fuel to a 21st-century energy economy that relies on efficiency, renewable sources, and low-carbon fossil fuels.”
List of Cons of Fracking
1. Requires Huge Amounts of Water.
Each fracturing job requires 1 to 8 million gallons of water to complete. With water scarcity in certain parts of the United States, this can mean bad news, especially when fracking is given more importance than the people who need clean drinking water. In a 2014 report, as much as 35 million gallons of freshwater was removed from nearby aquifers in Michigan to be used in just one frack well. At this rate, it will not be long before freshwater sources are depleted and rivers and streams dry up.
2. Degrades Drinking Water.
Apart from possible water shortage, hydraulic fracturing is also linked to water pollution. Pro-fracking people state that there is no proof of such an occurrence. The Natural Resource Defense Council, however, provided a list of incidents of water pollution that are caused by fracking, prompting the council to support the federal regulation of the Safe Drinking Water Act.
Moreover, in a report issued in December 2016, the U.S. EPA stated that fracking does pose risks to drinking water quality throughout the “hydraulic fracturing water cycle” from “water withdrawals to make hydraulic fracturing fluids, through the mixing and injection of hydraulic fracturing fluids in oil and gas production wells, to the collection and disposal or reuse of produced water.”
3. Triggers Earthquakes.
Processes of fracturing have been linked to several earthquakes in the U.S. and overseas, one of which is in Blackpool. In a report, private company Cuadrilla Resources admitted that two “seismic events” that occurred in Blackpool in early 2011, may have been caused by fracking. “It is highly probable that the hydraulic fracturing of Cuadrilla’s Preese Hall-1 well did trigger a number of minor seismic events.” These measured 2.3 and 1.5 on the Richter scale, respectively.
As of October 2020, the U.S. government stated on its U.S. Geological Survey website that: “Fracking intentionally causes small earthquakes (magnitudes smaller than 1) to enhance permeability, but it has also been linked to larger earthquakes. The largest earthquake known to be induced by hydraulic fracturing in the United States was a M4 earthquake in Texas…The largest earthquake known to be induced by wastewater disposal was a M5.8 earthquake that occurred near Pawnee, Oklahoma in 2016.”
4. Use of Hazardous Chemicals.
The mixture used in fracking often includes additives of biocide, polymeric lubricant, surfactant, and stabilizer. But because companies are not required to disclose any information about the chemicals they use, they have the freedom to change the ingredients. This is especially true because they are exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act of 2005.
In 2016, Yale School of Public Health researchers analyzed 240 substances used in fracking and determined that 157 of them were associated with either developmental or reproductive toxicity. The team acknowledged that further study was needed, and Yale faculty received a $2 million grant in August 2017 to study the health effects of fracking.
Fracking is an enormously controversial topic with human implications, good and bad. Hopefully the above pros and cons are helpful for a discussion of what we are doing as a society, and how we can do better for our population and our earth.
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.