The Main Fracking Pros and Cons to Be Considered in Any Debate
Fracking is a controversial practice that seems to have divided the world in an irreparable way. On one side, economists and researchers seem to believe we could absolutely use it as a stepping stone towards cleaner energy resources. On the other, there are environmentalists fervently debating against it and the pollution and GHG emissions it creates. But what are the main fracking pros and cons?
Fracking – In Short
Hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) is the process of drilling holes into the earth to release and collect gas or oil with the help of a high-pressure water mixture. This practice allows us to access the natural resources which are currently trapped in rocks. This oil and gas would otherwise be hard to extract.
After the well is drilled, a fracking fluid (made up of water, sand and chemicals) is injected into the rock at high pressure. As a result, the gas can flow to the surface of the well for collection. For a long while, the process of oil drilling was strictly a vertical business, but more recently, fracking has allowed us to drill horizontally to the rock layer. This creates new pathways for the gas to be released.
The term “fracking” makes reference to the way this process fractures the rock apart with the help of the high pressure mixture. Like many other environmental issues we’re facing today, the fracking pros and cons make it less black and white.
Why is Hydraulic Fracking Used?
According to experts, 60 to 80 percent of all wells we will drill in the U.S. over the next ten years will have to make use of hydraulic fracturing to remain functional. Fracturing is required to reach those deposits that would remain buried underground with other drilling methods.
It also enables the extended production of older oil and natural gas sites. With hydraulic fracturing, we have managed to recover oil and natural gas from formations that geologists once deemed useless, including tight shale formations.
So Why is it Controversial?
On one hand, the extensive use of fracking in the U.S. has sparked a revolution in the energy industry. On the other, it has also prompted several environmental concerns. For instance, huge amounts of water are involved in the fracking process – water which has to be transported to the fracking site at quite an environmental cost.
At the same time, environmentalists claim that the chemicals used are potentially carcinogenic. While they have their use in the fracturing process, they can also escape and contaminate groundwater around the drilling site. However, the industry suggests pollution only occurs as a result of bad practice, and it’s not an inherently risky technique.
Fracking Pros and Cons
As one of the hottest debates at the moment, fracking comes with many benefits and disadvantages. Drilling firms benefit from it because it allows them to access difficult-to-reach deposits of oil and gas deep underground. Fracking in the U.S. has spurred a significant boost in domestic oil production, while also driving down gas prices.
In addition to offering oil security to the countries that use it, hydraulic fraction also creates thousands of jobs. It also has the potential of establishing the economic impact of shale gas, which would reduce the U.S. dependency of buying gas and oil from other countries.
However, one of the biggest environmental concerns remains the fact that – according to environmentalists – fracking is just a distraction from what should be our main focus: investing in renewable source of energy. This practice, they say, encourages energy firms and governments in their unhealthy reliance on fossil fuels.
Benefits of Fracking
At first sight, the debate over fracking might seem like a classic example of a problem that pits the economic arguments (benefits) against the environmental ones (costs). But that would be a huge oversimplification of the matter, because the environmental and economic arguments often get quite mixed ones, blurring the lines between the benefits and the disadvantages.
The biggest and most used argument in favor of hydraulic fracking is that it helps the gas and oil industry to collect more fossil fuels at a time when the world’s resource seems to be peaking. For instance, fracking in the U.S. alone has already produced tens of billions of dollars in shale gas. In 2012, more than 39 percent of all natural gas produced in the U.S. came from shale deposits.
The Middle East is currently dominating oil production, in spite of a being a politically unstable region. But what if gas-guzzling countries (including the U.S.) could produce more fuel to reduce their dependence on expensive imports? If nations have their own oil, that makes for better “fuel security” all around. In turn, it makes governments less likely to fight wars over other people’s deposits.
Meanwhile, energy adds costs to every product and service, from shipping goods to heating office buildings. Therefore, cheaper energy comes with knock-on economic benefits that affect more than just the oil industry. However, despite the laws of supply and demand, more gas and oil doesn’t automatically translate into lower energy prices.
On the other side of the debate, the environmentalists were quick to challenge the economic pros of fracking based on environmental grounds. The three largest concerns focus on the release greenhouse gas emissions (responsible for climate change), pollution, and water use.
By far the biggest problem regarding fracking is that it adds to the world’s supply of fossil fuels when the universal scientific agreement says that a substantial reduction in global carbon dioxide emissions is essential. Boosting the supply of fossil fuels through fracking also releases trapped methane (much more dangerous than CO2).
The basic principle of fracking is firing powerful jets of water down the drilling wells to boost our supply of gas and oil. However, we must keep in mind that water has become a scarce resource in many regions in the U.S. and across the globe. The UN estimates that almost one-fifth of the world’s population live in areas where water is scarce.
The quality of the water that comes back up from wells is just as worrying as the quantity going underground in the first place. Even though chemicals make up only 1 percent of the fracking fluid, the huge volumes of liquid used are polluted nevertheless. These water-polluting substances contained in the fracking fluid vary from well to well. Typically, they contain a toxic cocktail of carcinogenic hydrocarbons, acids, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).