Hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as ‘fracking’, is a drilling technique used to obtain oil and natural gas from deep in the ground. Patented in 1949 by Halliburton, the practice has expanded and advanced through today, with many companies taking part in this technique. The companies drill deep holes into the earth and cases it with steel and cement, then they pump a mixture of sand, water and chemicals into the well at high pressures, fracturing the rock, allowing natural gasses to flow out of the rock, through the tunnel to the surface where it is treated and removed. Generally, the wells ‘dry up’ within a few years, then they are plugged and the companies move on to other areas. Since 9/11 and conflicts with many countries with high rates of oil production and export, fracking has seen a boom in the U.S., in the last five years alone the U.S. has a daily increase of 3.7 million barrels of oil, dropping the import of oil by 44%. In 2012, the U.S. became the #1 producer of natural gas, removing Russia from the top spot. Obviously, this has been good for the economy of the U.S. but has it been good for our environment?
With fracking, the use of natural gases have become much more abundant than the use of oil and coal. Natural gases output carbon dioxide at less than half the rate of oil and coal, which should be a good thing for the atmosphere. But, what studies are finding is that because the natural gases are more abundant suddenly (because of the prevalence of fracking), and cheaper than coal and oil imported from the Middle East, the rates of consumption have gone up, thus increasing the lowered rates of carbon output. Another problem with fracking is the release of natural gases into the atmosphere while drilling. Methane is the gas that could have the most alarming consequences, being 72 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period, trapping heat in the atmosphere. Besides affecting the atmosphere, fracking has had negative effects on our nation’s human water supply, variously from leaks into communities’ ground water supplies and drinking wells to the high volume of water needed to use for the process itself. There have also been a number of earthquakes directly related to fracking practices. Another extremely unfortunate side effect of fracking is that it has taken the focus and funding away from actual clean energy resources that would not be harmful to the environment, such as solar and wind energy. With the funding going mostly towards fracking, solar and wind power research and technology funding has suffered greatly, unable to make strides towards clean energy. How can we shift funding back towards clean energy that is safer for personal health and safer for environmental health to slow down climate change?
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