Fracking Debate

Posted May 17th, 2012 by Nanette Heffernan. Comment (1).

It can be overwhelming trying to understand some of our modern day environmental issues. We read myriad articles but who has time to keep it all straight. I do. And now you can also with my new “Debates” series. I’ll be taking a few of the hottest environmental issues and researching both sides for you. Read on for a lengthy, thought provoking argument, for and against, Fracking. Never even heard of Fracking? It’s a big deal, and making inroads into even the most environmentally supportive states, such as California.

Do you have a particular topic you’d like to learn more about? Leave a comment and I’ll look into it. Also make sure to check back regularly for future discussions on Global Warming, EWaste, Bottled Water, and more.


What’s the Debate?
Should America expand fracking in the U.S.?

What’s Fracking?
Hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a Fracking) is a process for extracting natural gas from deep below the ground. The process has been around since the 60’s, but started to take off in 2004 due to technological advances. Energy companies can now drill horizontally into shale rock located thousands of feet below Earth’s surface by injecting water, sand, and chemicals, under extremely high pressure, allowing them to tap into previously inaccessible sources of natural gas. Today hydraulic fracturing is both one of the fastest growing supplies of energy in the U.S., and one of the bitterest debates between those who support it and those who don’t.  

Pro Hydraulic Fracturing (HF) Argument
Energy industry executives, their investors, and the millions of Americans who support HF argue that extracting the huge reserves of natural gas in the U.S., by utilizing this new technology, is the answer to many of America’s short and long-term issues. Accessing these reserves will increase state, federal, and industry revenues, create thousands of jobs, and ultimately reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil. In addition, supporters argue the process is safe, and natural gas is a cheaper, cleaner source of energy than coal or oil.

Supporters remind us most things are a trade off. If Americans want cheaper, better, items like computers, cars, appliances, medical devices, Internet, ect., to improve their lives, then they need cheaper and better sources of energy to develop and operate them. Decisions impacting the ability to produce oil and natural gas in America will touch every sector of the economy, every household, and every citizen for decades to come. Supporting hydraulic fracturing is a win, win, win for the U.S., Americans, and energy industry investors.

  • Hydraulic Fracturing Is Safe – The HF process involves drilling horizontally into shale rock located thousands of feet below Earth’s surface by injecting water, sand, and chemicals under extremely high pressure. Many communities have protested the HF process claiming it contaminates drinking water with carcinogenic chemicals and radiation. The energy industry disagrees, stating shale formations (where most natural gas is located), and drinking wells or aquifers (that supply communities), are separated by a few thousand feet of rock making it impossible for even the EPA to prove a direct link to water well contamination and hydraulic fracturing. As an additional safety measure, cement casing are installed at the top of the well for stability and safety, thus preventing any waste leakage (chemicals, radiation, or methane) into drinking water supplies as components pass through, unless a casing should break. Therefore, the focus should be on proper well construction and maintenance instead of protesting.
  • Hydraulic Fracturing Creates Jobs – The oil and natural gas industry is one of the largest employers in the U.S. supporting nearly 9.2 million jobs. HF alone has generated hundreds of thousands of much-needed American jobs that pay over double the national average. This boom has also had a positive ripple effect creating employment in other support industries such as engineering and surveying, construction, hospitality, equipment manufacturing, environmental permitting, and more.
  • Hydraulic Fracturing Generates Income – The oil and gas industry contributes 7.7 percent to the GDP and nearly $86 million dollars a day to the federal treasury. As part of this industry, HF generates significant state and federal income from domestic sales, exports, and taxes. Currently the U.S. purchases over 12 million barrels of foreign oil annually, sending an estimated $400 billion overseas. Expanding natural gas via HF will keep more of those jobs and dollars in America and significantly increase its energy security.
  • Natural Gas Is Cheaper – According to the Wall Street Journal, natural gas prices for Americans have dropped over 70% (from $15 per million British thermal unit to $4) since the recent technological breakthroughs in HF. This means those individuals and businesses that use natural gas for energy instead of electricity will save money. Money that can be reinvested into the American economy.

Anti-Fracking Argument Summary 
Those who are against Fracking agree that America needs to reduce its dependence on foreign oil to improve its energy security, but don’t believe that allowing the energy industry to drill hundreds of thousands of wells across the U.S. is the way to do it. Fracking opponents argue the process is not safe, it generates millions of gallons of toxic, radioactive waste, depletes valuable fresh water supplies, and increases global warming faster than coal. Furthermore, investing in renewable energies can create hundreds of thousands of jobs, which will drive the U.S. economy for years to come. Fracking is a win, lose, lose, lose proposition; a win for energy industry investors but a loss for the millions of Americans affected by it, all future generations, and the environment.

  • Fracking Is Not Safe – Methane, radioactive material and fracking chemicals (some of which are carcinogenic) can, and do, leach into drinking water supplies, and not just when a cement casting breaks. Drilling companies often drill in old oil fields where the earth has already been compromised by a network of abandoned oil wells. Although those old wells have been plugged, leaky well casings at the earth’s surface can provide a direct conduit for toxic fracking fluids to seep back up to the relatively shallow level where drinking water wells reside.“So, in reality, shale formations and drinking water wells are not separated by “solid rock,” but rather separated by rock riddled with the passageways of old wells,” says Stuart Smith, a New Orleans Environmental Attorney.Fracking opponents claim energy companies can get away with such well mismanagement due to something known as the Halliburton Loophole (named after the company who invented hydraulic fracturing) where the Federal Energy Policy Act of 2005 gave an exemption from complying with the Clean Water Act to natural gas companies. Opponents also argue that although methane is not toxic—and therefore not dangerous to drink—the risk is that gas can collect in homes and asphyxiate residents or lead to catastrophic explosions. Some residents have shown they can actually light their water on fire. In addition, companies are drilling so deep they are exposing the water to naturally occurring radiation. According to Josh Fox, director of the Emmy award winning movie, Gasland, the reason the EPA’s come to the conclusion in 2004 that the Fracking process doesn’t contaminate drinking water is because five of the seven members of the peer reviewed study panel were working for the gas industry.
  • Renewable Energy Generates Jobs – All segments of the energy industry creates jobs, including the renewable energy sector. The reason the majority of the industry’s jobs are in fossil fuels is because the industry is heavily subsidized resulting in only 1% of America’s energy coming from renewable sources. Investing in renewable energy creates jobs and secure, clean sources of energy for decades to come. Natural gas in not a renewable source of energy and will eventually run out. Hailing natural gas as the answer to America’s energy problems is short sited, creates risk for its energy security, and delays the development of competitive clean, renewable energy solutions.
  • Natural Gas Is Not Clean – Natural Gas is just as dirty as other fossil fuels. According to a study by Cornell University in April 2011, one of the problems with Fracking is that planet-warming methane, the chief component of natural gas, is escaping into the atmosphere in far larger quantities than previously thought, with as much as 7.9 percent of it puffing out from shale gas wells, intentionally vented or flared, or seeping from loose pipe fittings along gas distribution lines. This offsets natural gas’s most important advantage as an energy source: it burns cleaner than other fossil fuels and releases lower carbon dioxide emissions.
  • Natural Gas Is Not Necessarily Cheaper – Whether or not natural gas or electricity is cheaper depends entirely on your rates. Energy companies have a variety of pricing structures including everything from flat rates to charging less depending on the time of day, or even the actual day of usage. So while natural gas can be cheaper it’s not uniformly cheaper throughout the U.S.
  • Fracking Depletes Water Sources –Water is finite on our planet. As our global population grows, and the glaciers continue to melt, there will eventually not be enough fresh water to go around. Each time a well is fracked it requires millions of gallons of fresh water, which is drawn from local fresh water supplies. Potentially more troublesome, is the issue of cleaning those millions of gallons once they’ve been polluted with carcinogenic chemicals and radon. So where does all the radioactive wastewater end up? According to veteran New York Times reporter Ian Urbina, much of it goes straight to public sewage treatment plants that are ill-equipped to remove radioactive contaminants, like radium.


Video and Movie Resources

  • Gasland. Directed by Josh Fox 2010. May not be appropriate for children.

One response to “Fracking Debate”

  1. Nanette Heffernan

    As with most booming industries, fracking is creating a whole host of opportunities for support services. Now you can have our water tested for fracking chemicals.

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