It seems like you can’t go more than a couple of days without reading some new news story about fracking, and how it can impact our lives. Some people are in favor of the technique because it gives us access to a huge new source of natural gas. Others, however, are very against it because of the impact it could have on the environment.
Understanding the pros and cons of fracking is very important, and it will allow companies and individuals to make better decisions about whether or not to perform or support fracking in their area.
What is Fracking?
Before you can get deep into the pros and cons of this drilling technique, it is important to really understand what it is. Fracking, or more precisely, hydraulic fracturing, is a process by which we can access the natural gas that is contained within many types of sandstone, limestone and shales far below the surface.
These items have the gas contained within them because of the decomposing organic material that built up over the course of millions of years. The gas is released when the rocks are broken apart through normal drilling. To improve upon this process, the gas was forced out by pumping highly pressurized water into them.
Over time, the process was advanced, and drillers began adding chemicals into the water that was pumped into these rocks. The chemicals helped to dissolve minerals, and kill bacteria that may plug up any wells. They also began to insert sand directly into the area that was being fracked to fill in the areas after completing the process.
To sum it up, fracking is essentially a process by which the rocks deep below the surface are accessed so that we can get the natural gas within to come up to the surface, where we capture it and use it for fuel.
Pros of Fracking
To start with, let’s look at some of the benefits of this type of drilling. There are many, and whether you are for or against the process, it is good to have an unbiased opinion about how this type of drilling can be beneficial. The following are some of the most important benefits that we can enjoy:
Access to Vast amounts of Natural Gas – The first, and likely most important, benefit is that it gives us access to a huge amount of natural gas that was inaccessible before. For example, in one shale field in Pennsylvania alone it is estimated that there is 500 trillion cubic feet of gas. This would be enough gas to power all US homes at their current levels for about 50 years. There are many other natural gas rich places that are still untapped and others that are undiscovered.
More environmentally friendly than Coal – While one of the biggest complaints people have about fracking is that it harms the environment, in many ways it is actually more environmentally friendly than using coal. Specifically, it releases fewer greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere and natural gas burns far cleaner than coal. In addition, even some of the environmental problems that do come from fracking can be minimized through advancements in the processes that are being used.
Creates Jobs – The process of fracking typically requires a lot of man hours, which means new jobs wherever the fracking takes place. Many places that have begun fracking drills have seen their unemployment rates drop dramatically.
Promotes Energy Independence – The United States has vast amounts of natural gas available for this type of drilling, so if we continue to expand fracking it will reduce the amount of energy we have to import from other countries.
Reusing Existing Drills – When an oil rig has tapped out all the oil from a location, the rig usually has to be dismantled and send somewhere else. With fracking, however, the rig can stay in place and immediately convert to fracking, which makes it more efficient and longer lasting. This is a benefit for the drilling company, of course, but also reduces the total cost of this drilling so the prices can be reduced as well.
Negative Aspects of Fracking
While it is undeniable that there are some pretty significant advantages to using the fracking process, it is equally important to look closely at the potential problems that it may cause. The following are some of the most significant downsides to fracking:
Earthquakes – Fracking has been shown to disrupt the stability of the ground and actually cause earthquakes. To this point, they have all been very small, and most of them so insignificant that the average person can’t even feel them. None of them have been strong enough to cause any damage. The fact is, however, that if they are causing even minor earthquakes now, we need to determine whether or not it is possible that larger ones could happen in the future with continued drilling.
Contaminating the ground Water Supply – The water and chemicals that are pushed into the rocks can cause contamination if it works its way into the surrounding ground water supply. At this point there have been quite a few studies done on this issue and it has not been a major problem. Without proper care, however, it seems unavoidable that eventually this chemical filled water will flow into a water supply that people are trying to use, and this will cause significant health and safety issues.
Air Pollution – It is estimated that about 1-2 percent of all the wells that are drilled have casings that leak. These casings are designed to keep the methane from getting out into the air and up into the atmosphere. When they fail, these leaks can go on for quite some time before being detected and closed. This can cause some significant air quality problems over time.
Leaks and Human Error – Another issue with fracking is that if someone doesn’t properly close off a valve, for example, it can cause gas to leak into the air quite rapidly. This is obviously an environmental hazard, but it can also be a huge fire risk on the job site. These types of problems can often be reduced by using custom safety signs (which can be purchased here) and other reminders that will help to reduce the risk of this happening. Even installing automated valves can help in this area.
Expensive – the actual process of fracking is more expensive than traditional drilling. Due to the fact that oil and other fossil fuels are going up in price, however, it is still worth it for the drilling companies.
There is no doubt that fracking has a lot of potential for helping to reduce or even end the energy crisis that many people feel we are facing. Even if it is only a temporary solution until ‘greener’ options are perfected, it is something that needs to be given a fair shot.
Many of the problems of fracking can be addressed by improving the technologies and becoming more aware of the potential risks to be aware of. It is certainly not a good idea for fracking to continue without taking proper precautions, but this also does appear to be a huge source of energy that simply can’t be ignored. Taking the time to understand the process, the pros and cons, and what can be done to reduce the risks is something everyone should be focusing on.