The term “fracking” has become common vernacular when talking about fossil fuel extraction. While many people know that it is a way to extract oil, or natural gas, from the earth, they do not know exactly what the process entails. Proponents cite economic benefits such as job creation and lower fuel costs to justify fracking. However, opponents argue that the process causes too much damage to the environment and some even seek to ban fracking, or hydraulic fracturing all together in the United States and other countries.
So What Exactly is Fracking?
According to the Energy From Shale website, “Hydraulic fracturing is the process of drilling for natural gas and oil underneath the ground. Water mixed with other components is pumped into the ground to create cracks (also referred to as fissures or fractures) to release the gas into wells that have been built for collection.” The process is actually a lot more complex and includes several steps, the first of which involves mixing water with an acid to clear and prepare the area and weakening the rock. After the acid, another liquid mix is pumped en mass into the well, and then the process ends with a flushing stage, where hundreds of thousands of gallons of water can be used during just this step of this four step method.
Fracking has been used since the 1940s to extract natural gas and oil from otherwise difficult to reach deposits. In recent years the method has become a popular way for oil companies to increase domestic U.S. oil production from shale formations in states such as Texas, New York, and Pennsylvania.
Controversy Around Fracking
The “other components” that are pumped into the ground during the fracking process are at the center of the controversy surrounding fracking. These components can include benzene, lead, salt, sand, and dozens of other chemicals. While gas companies claim they want to protect the environment and groundwater as much as possible throughout the fracking process, it is hard to believe since even the EPA’s preliminary report emphasizes the dangers or groundwater contamination.
According to Josh Fox’s documentary “Gasland” and its website, Congress passed the Energy Policy Act of 2005 which explicitly exempts fracking from the Safe Water Drinking Act. This exemption basically allows gas companies to inject chemicals into, near, and/or around underground sources of drinking water without reporting specific levels or names of chemicals that are being used to anyone.
The Future of Fracking
For now, it seems that fracking will continue to be used increasingly throughout the United States and around the world, but with ever-more places proactively banning the process out of environmental concern and public pressure. A bill adding transprency to the fracking process has been passed in California, but it has not fully satisfied either side.
While the bill would not ban fracking, it would set up regulations for oil companies that wish to use the method in the state. According to Reuters, some of these regulations are: companies would have to obtain permits for fracking, notify the surrounding community, publicly disclose which chemicals are used, monitor air and groundwater quality, and conduct independent scientific studies to evaluate potential contamination risks to the surrounding environment.
It is clear that people all over don’t think reviving old oil wells is worth destroying the quality of their groundwater, and forcing companies to actually cooperate with the communities in which they operate is a step in the right direction. It is insane to be doing such disproportional damage to our planet when renewable energy resources are becoming much cheaper than conventional methods like fracking.