There’s one fact that just can’t be ignored in today’s energy-based world: we need oil and natural gas. To some, hydraulic fracturing is the innovative process that can help to release the needed energy reserves a society needs in a cost effective manner. Are there risks that are associated with the practice of “fracking” that aren’t generally part of the conversation? Or is it a process that is completely safe, as proponents of hydraulic fracturing claim it is?
By evaluating the pros and cons of hydraulic fracturing, we can all take a comprehensive look at the benefits of this practice to see if it is worth any risks that might be present to extract these energy resources.
What Are the Pros of Hydraulic Fracturing?
1. There are enough energy reserves that are trapped in rock and shale formations that could make a nation completely energy independent.
North America especially has a tremendous reserve of energy that is just waiting to be tapped into. The United States imports millions of barrels of oil every day and 70% of those imports go to transportation needs. Not only can domestic production potentially reduce costs, but it can put taxpayer money to better use than oil imports.
2. Countries with hydraulic fracturing become less dependent on the oil monopoly.
Although some may be hesitant to call OPEC, which is based in the Middle East and Venezuela, a monopoly, the fact remains that a minority of nations in the world today are dependent on oil that is produced from these suppliers so that their needs can be met. By having oil reserves extracted from hydraulic fracturing, this dependence on the oil monopoly could potentially disappear and a nation could begin to chart its own course of energy development.
3. It makes nations less dependent on more volatile political structures.
Much of the world’s natural gas comes from Russia. The political environment in Russia has been traditionally unstable since the fall of Communism and the natural gas that this nation provides is its one true political lever that it can keep pulling to influence world politics. By having natural gas available from the fracking process, nations can become less dependent on Russia and its ever-changing moods.
4. Hydraulic fracturing is safer than most people understand that it is.
Most oil shale formations lie beneath the water table. This means any rogue natural gas or oil will naturally sink beneath the formations and have a minimal, negligible impact on the local water table. With decades of experience in drilling and fracturing, the threats to ground water have shown to be rather minimal.
5. Natural gas has less of an impact on the global atmosphere.
Even if we could only transition from oil to natural gas, the change in environmental conditions would be potentially outstanding. Natural gas also has fewer carbon emissions than coal, so power consumption could be at higher levels with this fossil fuel and the environmental impact would still be less. The transition to this gas would be very minimal – many homes are already equipped to receive it.
6. Hydraulic fracturing is the very definition of big business.
Many jobs are provided by this industry and those salaries and benefits trickle down to other business owners. Cafes, grocery stores, and other service orientated industries pop up to support the workers of this industry so that everyone has the chance to pursue their own dreams.
What Are the Cons of Hydraulic Fracturing?
1. There is no way to 100% guarantee the safety of the environment.
The bottom line with hydraulic fracturing is that there will always be an environmental risk associated with its implementation. This is because sand and chemicals are used with water in order to break apart the shale that is storing the fossil fuels. A majority of the fluids may be water, but there is enough sand involved that workers who don’t have respiratory protection can quickly begin to suffer from silica-based lung diseases.
2. There are no current disclosure requirements in most communities.
Companies that are fracturing can use virtually whatever they want to use to crack open the shale because there aren’t any requirements that they report the chemical compounds that are being used. If an emergency situation should develop, those responding to the emergency could have a difficult time formulating an appropriate response because they don’t have the information that they need.
3. It requires freshwater reserves to be used.
Every year in Michigan, more than 35 million gallons of drinkable water is used for hydraulic fracturing. This state might be #1 in the nation for the amount of fresh water that they are using, but the reality is that every well being developed and fractured is going to use fresh water. This means rivers, streams, and eventually local ground water supplies will eventually fade away.
4. The environmental impact is usually understated.
Most of the facts that surround hydraulic fracturing involve the impact on the environment from the fracking solution and the work being done on the rig. The only problem is that water is usually transported to the rigs through the use of heavy trucking. Heavy trucks are also used to transport well equipment from site to site. This creates pollution at higher levels than many people really realize.
5. Energy companies are campaigning local governments for more every day.
One of the top recommendations from the energy industry today is to allow multiple wells to drill on the same site. Although on paper this seems like a great idea, in reality it means that water supplies could become dangerously low for the surrounding region without a guarantee of any results or profits coming from the sacrifice.
Hydraulic fracturing could make North American energy independent of OPEC, Russia, and other nations. It could expand the amount of available resources, drive prices down, and contribute more money to society overall. Are the risks of fracking worth the benefits? That’s something that every community is going to need to decide.
Crystal Lombardo is a contributing editor for Vision Launch. Crystal is a seasoned writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience. She has been an editor of three popular blogs that each have had over 500,000 monthly readers.