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Hydraulic Fracturing: A Means to A Better Tomorrow

By:   •  March 4, 2015  •  Research Paper  •  2,295 Words (10 Pages)  •  899 Views

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Josue Flores

Clark, Wren

English 111

28 April, 2014

Hydraulic Fracturing: A means to a better tomorrow

Driving across Lumberton, North Carolina and being in the presence of the warm humid air, tall green grass, bright sun light, and the endless blue sky is an overwhelmingly wonderful experience. However, among this beauty and nature, stands a metallic fortress that seems to strip all of the life around it. The thought of future generations not being able to experience nature on earth the same way that we do today is an unsettling thought. Fossil fuel usage, global warming and alternatives to foreign oil have been the centers of controversy, debate and division in the United States. The question being, how do we quickly fix our environmental issues without dispensing a large amount of our economy? The answer to this question is slowly leaning towards hydraulic fracturing. Hydraulic fracturing or also known as “fracking” is a process in which high-pressure water with additives is used to increase fissures in a rock to extract oil or gas (Howarth). Even though fracking is becoming a very common practice around the United States, it is the least researched, in terms of its public health effects and environmental effects. If we are going to solve our environmental problems without causing detriments to public health and environment, we need to invest more time and financial support to research what could potentially improve and perfect hydraulic fracturing.

According to the carbon dioxide information analysis center (CDIAC), the United States ranks second in fossil fuel related carbon dioxide emissions with 1.55 billion tons of carbon dioxide emitted per year (Boden). This much emission of greenhouse gases cannot benefit the environment; and regardless of whether one thinks global warming is a sizable threat to our future or that is mere conspiracy, there is no rational justification to claiming that the amount of waste products we eject into our environment is not causing any harm. The more one analyzes the statistics of greenhouse gas emissions, the more it is evident that fossil fuel usage is not a trend that is here to stay.

Natural gas is a combustible mixture of methane and other hydrocarbon gases. Unlike other forms of fossil fuels, it is proven that natural gas is clean burning, with very few pollutant emissions (Davis). Our energy consumption for daily activities such as: cooking, heating and electricity usage are now mainly supported by non-clean burning fossil fuels. If we were to substitute these fossil fuels with natural gas, we could potentially cut down our greenhouse gas emissions by a substantial amount. Currently natural gas accounts for 30% of electricity production and 50% of home heating (Napach). Besides the fact that it is clean burning, the other essential perk of using natural gas is that it is a very abundant natural resource in the United States and does not need to be imported.  The amount of natural gas that could potentially be recovered in the United States reached a record estimate of 2,384 trillion cubic feet at the end of 2012; an amount that could supply the United States (at current levels of consumption) for 105 years (Proctor). According to the U.S. energy information administration (E.I.A), Texas was the highest producer and consumer of natural gas in the United States with 7.1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas produced and 3.6 trillion cubic feet consumed. Louisiana, Wyoming, Oklahoma, and Colorado were also listed as leaders in production as well as consumption of natural gas in 2011 ("Natural gas production by state"). The numbers relating to natural gas reserves are staggering.

What is the main driving force in the sudden growth and flourishing of natural gas production and harvesting? The answer is none other than the miraculous development of hydraulic fracturing. A technology that is so future-forward that it revolutionized the way we use natural gas as a resources altogether. After the development of hydraulic fracturing, our natural gas consumption rose 4.4% to 25.5 trillion cubic feet per year (Napach). John Curtis, a professor of geology and geological engineering at the School of Mines and leading Hydraulic fracturing researcher, stated that hydraulic fracturing has unlocked gas resources “which not long ago were considered impractical or uneconomical to pursue” (Proctor). Hydraulic Fracturing uses a mixture of chemicals and water to create high pressure in underground shale rocks to release the natural gas trapped in those rocks (Davis). The amount of financial contribution and labor that is needed to run and operate a fracking site is also considerably high. However, technology has improved to the point where new and improved vertical and horizontal drills reach gas reserves to the maximum efficiency. The economic feasibility, advanced technology and marketing appeal have made hydraulic fracturing the go to method of gas extraction.

Since the development of hydraulic fracturing in the 1940s, the economic benefits of natural gas as a resource have been incredibly significant. In 2008, studies showed that 2.8 million jobs were accredited to the fracking industry (Davis). The employment opportunities created by hydraulic fracturing is inclusive of laborers with different ranges of educational levels and work experience (Proctor). In a country that is recovering from a major financial crisis, the creation of jobs for all workers should be held to a high value. Evaluating from the state level, many states with natural gas reserves have gained a large economic advantage because of the development of fracking. Texas alone has added 200 billion dollars to its economy from the production of natural gas (Davis). Energy independence would reverse the economic dynamic between the Mideast and the western countries. Judging from the financially devastating oil spill in the gulf coast in 2010, dependency of foreign oil is not only environmentally irresponsible but also economically undesirable (Finkel et. al 2011).

As grand and promising Hydraulic Fracturing is, it is not without its flaws. The Academy award nominated documentary Gasland by Josh Fox, show cases to Hydraulic fracturing that is impactful and unsettling. Fox takes the viewer on a very personal journey to the homes of people personally affected by the effects of fracking in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. To better understand the real effects of Hydraulic fracturing on public health and the environment, Fox interviews public health officials, geology experts, environmental scientists, and fracking experts. The documentary has inspired a lot of outrage from the public and has brought fracking into the spot light.

                Hydraulic fracturing includes the input of chemicals mixed with water deep into the ground—meaning that groundwater is not safe from contamination from these chemicals. Those who depend on ground water for drinking water, run the risk of consuming chemicals that could potentially endanger their lives. In addition to that, drilling companies are not legally required to list the chemical compounds used in fracking making it very difficult to assess the full scope of the contents of fracking fluids. By not forcing companies to list and regulate the chemicals they use, the United States government has exempted hydraulic fracturing companies form the clean water act, as well as the safe drinking water act (Fox). However, toxic mud and fluid byproducts from the drilling and fracking as well as spills of oil and gas wastes are not uncommon. (Finkel et. al 2011). Many chemicals that can potentially cause public health issues have been identified in fracking fluid. The identity of the chemicals involved in fracking are kept hidden by drilling companies.


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