Hydraulic fracturing, also knowing as fracking, is a mining technique used for mining natural gases and petroleum, in which a wellbore is created and liquid solution of water, sand and chemicals is shot into it at high pressure. From this, small fractures are created in the rock, and out of these fractures, petroleum and gas leak into the well. Fracking has been used in the mining of natural gas since 1949. In this essay I will offer arguments in support of hydraulic fracturing as a safe and sustainable way to mine hydrocarbons.
Fracking differs from other gas mining techniques as the wells are drilled thousands of feet deeper than traditional wells. It also requires up to 100 times more local fresh water per well than other extraction methods. The chemicals in the water solution are also different to past techniques. Some who are in opposition to fracking suggest that the water use and the toxicity of the chemicals outweigh any benefits to the process. However, another way that fracking is different to previous methods is that it harvests more gas per unit of energy put in to the process than any other mining technique. Natural gas, the product of fracking, is also one of the cleanest energy sources, having a tiny carbon footprint compared to fossil fuels like coal. Some writers on the subject are also keen to point out that the debate surrounding hydraulic fracturing is often ignorant of science, and based more in scare-tactics. (Emerson 3)
Alternative energy sources to natural gas are, as I mentioned above, coal and oil. Though fracking is also responsible for the mining of oil, it is the mining of natural gas that it is used for most of all. It is estimated by some that the vast well formation beneath Pennsylvania, West Virginia and New York could produce “493 trillion cubic feet of gas in its 50- to 100-year life span,” (McGraw par. 2. Emphasis my own) which is enough to “power every natural gas-burning device in the country for 20 years.” (par. 2. Emphasis my own) Another claim mentioned above is that of fracking being wasteful with regards to fresh water. McGraw also debunks this claim in his article, stating that “of the 9.5 billion gallons of water used daily in Pennsylvania, natural gas development consumes [only] 1.9 million gallons a day,” (par. 3) whereas, for example, livestock uses 62 million, and industry, 770 million. Another benefit of natural gas, of course, is how clean it is, and with the process of fracking becoming cleaner too, continuing improvements of the process could leave us with an almost carbon neutral source of energy. This certainly seems to outweigh any potential (and small) dangers of contamination of water supply, which have so far been very few in the lifespan of the process.
The cost of setting up fracking sites, in economic terms, caries depending on the location. US fracking sites of, for example, 10,500 vertical feet, cost around $8 million to set up and maintain. (Anderson par. 10) However, the cost to the communities above and around the site is something which also needs to be considered when trying to find positive arguments for the process. Of course one huge benefit to the local areas around drilling sites is that jobs will be created, bringing money into the towns and cities that surround the area.
Clearly the debate around hydraulic fracturing for the extraction of hydrocarbons will not cease until all the apparent issues surrounding the process are resolved, but it appears to me, even in this short presentation of a few of the benefits of it, that it is not as terrible a process as some people make it out to be, and with a little more work of safety measures and reducing the carbon footprint of the process itself, we could have an incredibly safe, sustainable, and carbon neutral energy source.
- Anderson, J. “How Much Does a Shale Gas Well Cost? ‘It Depends’” Accessed May 28, 2014. http://breakingenergy.com/2013/08/06/how-much-does-a-shale-gas-well-cost-it-depends/ 2013. Web.
- BBC News “What is fracking and why is it controversial?” Accessed May 28, 2014. http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-14432401 2013. Web.
- Emerson, E. “Drilling into the fracas over natural gas fracking” in Science News 182(5) Septeber 2012. Print.
- McGraw. “Is Fracking Safe? The Top 10 Controversial Claims About Natural Gas Drilling” Accessed May 27, 2014. http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/energy/coal-oil-gas/top-10-myths-about-natural-gas-drilling-6386593#slide-7 n.d. Web.