The Good, Bad and Ugly of Fracking
There is a gold rush going on right now. Man is breaking the earth, looking for natural gas. It’s a mad scene, with hucksters on every side of the issue. There is a lot going on underground and that process is called Fracking. The word alone can stir up controversy. The process of extracting natural gas through hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” might summon in someone’s imagination an environment and damaged communities. Natural gas hides from sight it is invisible. Perhaps envisioned a prettier picture—one that involves clean-burning fuel, job growth and affordable energy. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) states that fracking “is the process of injecting large volumes of water, sand and chemicals into the ground at high pressure to break up shale formation allowing more efficient recovery of oil and gas” (Walter). This practice has grown rapidly over the course of the last decade thanks to improved technologies, but it also has fostered debates concerning its environmental, health and safety impact along the way. The process of hydraulic fracturing – shooting water, sand, and chemicals at high pressure into underground wells to release natural gas – is a divisive issue. Some say it dumps chemicals into ground water supplies; others argue it causes earthquakes, and still others think it can revolutionize America’s energy industry. Environmentalists argue that fracking contaminates ground and surface water – a charge the gas companies deny. Here’s the problem: the fracking process begins with a well drilled deep underground. Horizontal passages are then drilled outward from the bottom of the well. Water, sand and chemicals are pumped at high pressure through the water is insignificant, and it has never been proven that those chemicals rise ground water supplies. On the other hand, environmentalists say the downward drilling process, if done poorly, releases chemicals into both ground and surface water. Both arguments are strong, which is why no one can agree whether fracking is a good or bad thing.
The science is not settled; arguments are hurled back and forth by both gas companies and environmentalists. On the earthquake issue, seismologists say it is possible fracking can cause small earthquakes. The British Geological Survey researched the Blackpool earthquakes, and the conclusion was reasonable. However, they did come back and say, “the chances of getting a very large earthquake are insignificant” (Walter). Meanwhile, a contaminated water supply is a hotly-debated issue: there have been cases where fracking has polluted water supplies as a result of poor oversight and procedures, but it does seem that if done correctly, fracking is not nearly as environmentally disruptive as traditional oil and gas extraction.
One thing that is settled are the benefits homegrown natural gas adds to the US energy industry. As chemist and author rich Trzupek wrote recently: “America has become, in the eyes of energy professions, the Saudi Arabia of natural gas thanks to shale gas. The DOE estimates that shale gas reserves alone are 750 trillion cubic feet. (McGraw). Combines with other domestic sources of natural gas, the United States has enough natural gas to last for over a century, and the numbers continue to climb. In areas where shale gas drilling is happening, the good times are rolling. Not only are people making money from the energy sales, jobs are created down the line, from the companies who support drilling operations down to the service industries that provide workers with food and shelter” (McGraw).
According to Carlton Carroll, American Petroleum Institute (API) the oil and natural gas industry’s number one priority is safety. It is very important to maintain a perfect safety record but even one incident is way too many. In a December 2012 press release, API called the extraction from natural gas from shale “the most important domestic energy...
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