It’s been in the news for quite some time, and every biased politician and environmentalist is weighing in on the pros or cons of fracking. Most people have no idea what it is, or how it can potentially help or harm us all. So, what is fracking? And if it’s been around since the 1940s, why is it such a hotbed issue right now?
Fracking is the commonly used term for hydraulic fracturing, and some call it hydro-fracking. Hydraulic fracturing is a controversial method of obtaining domestic oil and natural gas, by injecting highly-pressurized fluid into a well in order to split the rock and access the natural gas trapped within.
The process is relatively simple on paper. A well is drilled about 7,000 feet deep, then horizontally, into the shale rock. A mixture of water, sand, and chemicals is shot into the well to create pressure, which creates about 7-10 cracks in the rock along the well. This forces the oil to move to the surface, and allows drillers to harvest it.
This process of hydraulic fracturing and drilling has been around for decades – since the 1940’s, but recent innovations brought the technology a long way in a very short period of time.
Energy Independence: It’s safe to say our reliance on foreign oil is debilitating, both politically and financially. Perhaps energy independence will finally allow the United States military to return home, and help politicians make decisions without considering the effects of angering our oil suppliers.
Creating Manufacturing Jobs: In this economy, any more jobs are good jobs. Especially in the energy sector, which tends to have higher salaries than most other entry-level positions.
Increased Tax Revenue: Again, this country is struggling financially, on much more than just an individual level. With the acceptance of new sources of energy, Uncle Sam can start keeping a little more tax money, rather than sending it off to foreign suppliers. We might even see lower taxes because of it.
Lower Energy Prices: The real kicker comes at the pump and the meter. With domestic sources of energy, we’re almost guaranteed lower gas prices and smaller utilities bills. Individuals and families will once again be able to afford to turn the lights on, or take a family road trip.
Earthquakes: Late in 2011, a British energy company admitted that fracking “likely” caused an earthquake in England. Do we really want to invoke the wrath of Mother Nature for the sake of oil? What about in earthquake-prone places such as California? It might not be worth it to attain energy independence after all.
Contaminated Water Supply: The energy companies are not required to release the chemicals used for fracking, so there’s no real way to know how safe or unsafe they are. In fact, many fear that these chemicals can seep up into our fresh water supply, and contaminate our drinking water. In December of 2011, according to sampling and testing, “The EPA found that compounds likely associated with fracking chemicals had been detected in the groundwater beneath Pavillion, a small community in central Wyoming where residents say their well water reeks of chemicals.”
Impact on Small Farms: Small farms are already struggling to keep up with the big corporate cash crop farms, and there are serious fears that fracking can cause soil contamination, fragmented farmland, and contaminated water. For some reason, we keep trying things out until someone gets sick, rather than doing an appropriate amount of testing to ensure the safety of our food and water sources.
Greenhouse Gas Emissons: Finally, many people in the environmental safety industry worry about the greenhouse gases released from this type of shale gas. According to The Hill, Cornell University professors discovered that “the footprint of shale gas is at least 20% greater” than that of coal. Why would we choose a dirtier source of energy?
When looking at the pros and cons, it’s hard to clearly see a winner and a loser, but the number one loser in all of this is alternative energy. With politicians pushing for continued use of depleting natural resources, it may be centuries before the United States renewable energy sector gets a chance to provide this country with clean energy.
Believe it or not, every single one of those pro arguments for fracking can be made for every type of clean, renewable energy. More jobs, more tax revenue, energy independence, and lower energy prices were already promised through the increase of clean energy sources. Fracking might just be the easy way out.
If the drillers are right, and we unlock enough natural gas and oil to give us complete energy independence for the next 200 years, then what? Can we believe that the oil will actually last that long? A few short decades ago, we thought our current energy reserves would last well into our great-grandkids’ old age, but the more energy we get our hands on, the less conservative we become. Will we simply put ourselves in the same position in another 80 years? Perhaps we do continue to allow fracking, and we establish energy independence for now, then the next step is to divert all of our energies to establishing clean, renewable, alternative energy sources for the future.