The Controversy Surrounding Fracking Part II
Last week, guest author Paul Batistelli contributed an article about the controversy surrounding fracking in ENN’s Spotlight section. This week, Paul argues the case for and against fracking…
The case for fracking
- Economic growth
In the United States, companies have struck natural gas gold in the Marcellus Shale formation in Pennsylvania, the Bakken in North Dakota and the Barnett Shale, Eagle Ford and Permian Basin in Texas. The number of drillers that have flocked to these areas have added significant economic value. According to the Dallas Morning News fracking has added about 1.6 million jobs in the United States, with the average worker earning $107,000 per year. In addition to job growth, it estimates that drilling could contribute $197 billion to the GDP by 2015 and double the amount by 2035.
- Lower natural gas rates
The boom in natural gas has caused the prices of the commodity to drop, decreasing energy bills for millions of Americans. Aside from heating and cooking with natural gas, homes across the nation can use electricity generated by the fossil fuel. Because of the low price of natural gas, many power plants have turned to the commodity instead of coal to generate electricity. In deregulated markets like Texas, energy rates charged by companies that purchase power from natural gas distributors may be lower than those who rely on coal-generated electricity.
- Cleaner electricity
Cost savings aren’t the only reason to use natural gas to generate electricity. Natural gas is a cleaner-burning fuel, meaning it produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions than its coal or oil counterparts. The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions released a report in June stating carbon emissions are at their lowest levels since 1994, partially because of the substitution of natural gas for other fossil fuels.
The case against fracking
- Harmful chemicals
The water pushed into shale rock formations is swimming with chemicals that help kill bacteria and dissolve minerals. Though the exact chemical cocktail used can vary by driller, 65 of the known chemicals used in fracking are considered hazardous. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency notes that some of the chemicals can cause adverse health effects with prolonged exposure, including damage to the kidneys, liver, brain, heart and blood stream. And because the fracking industry in exempt from the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976, the hazardous waste created in the process is unregulated.
- High water use
It’s not just a drop of water being used to frack natural gas, it’s millions of gallons. That much water use is an environmental concern for any state, but in drought-stricken areas like Texas, it’s an even bigger issue. Barnett Shale fracking in North Texas used more than a billion gallons of groundwater in 2009 alone, according to the Austin-American Statesman. And because of the chemicals in the water, it can’t be treated and reused for alternative purposes. Worse yet, it’s possible the fluids pumped in the ground are contaminating drinking water, which the EPA is currently investigating.
- Methane gas
Though natural gas is thought to burn cleaner than coal, fracking is not without a carbon footprint. When a well is fracked for natural gas, methane escapes as well. Many believe the extra release of methane gas cancels out any climate advantage of fewer carbon dioxide emissions. Furthermore, it’s thought the added methane gas puts people’s lives in danger, from both water contamination and the risk of explosions at fracking sites.
Paul Batistelli freelances in the energy field for the promotion of a greener society and energy means. He works to raise awareness on ecological issues, energy dependency, and reducing carbon footprints. He currently resides in Dallas, TX with his lab, Copeland.