Why Is Fracking Controversial?
“Fracking” is the common term for “hydraulic fracturing”, which is a process by which fossil fuels, usually natural gas or petroleum, are extracted from the earth. During the fracking process, drilling from a well into hard shale rock takes place, and then that rock is cracked. This cracking releases the fossil fuels inside the shale rocks. Water, sand and chemicals are injected into the cracked rocks at high pressure. Injection forces the gas or petroleum to flow out to the head of the well.
As with so many things in life, there are arguments for and against the growth of the fracking industry in the United States. On one side are those who believe that fracking produces numerous benefits which more than outweigh any potential drawbacks. Essentially, the “pro” fracking side makes the following cases for continuing and increasing oil shale drilling in the U.S.:
- Fracking brings about amazing job growth in the regions where it takes place
- Huge financial gains are available for fracking job seekers, those who own the lands where oil shale wells are drilled, entire towns located where the fracking industry is growing, and businesses that serve the fracking industry
- Fracking leads to increased fossil fuel availability for all Americans, which also leads to…
- Decreased dependency on fossil-fuel exporting nations that are hostile to the U.S., and
- Decreasing or moderating fuel costs for all Americans
However, there are plenty of folks who are “anti” fracking. These are folks who believe that environmental concerns and other issues caused by fracking should be taken into account. The anti-fracking group feels that fracking should be banned altogether, or at least seriously curtailed. Their main reasons for taking a rather hostile view towards the industry boil down to these points:
- Fracking potentially causes earthquakes in areas where drilling takes place. However, many feel that this potential fracking “side effect” merits further study
- Ground water contamination is possible near drilling areas
- Fracking “boom towns” breed increased crime, increased living costs, increasing rent and real estate costs, and add strains to the civic services of otherwise very small towns and villages
- The noise, equipment, truck traffic, and other side effects of the average fracking drilling operation are detrimental to the rural atmospheres where so many fracking operations are springing up
Do the claims made by anti-fracking groups have merit? Take groundwater contamination, for example. According to the Commonwealth Foundation of Pennsylvania, there have been no reported cases of groundwater contamination during over a million instances of fracking drilling operations. There have been, however, reports of contamination due to the disposal of wastewater which takes place during drilling operations as well as problems caused by bad well designs. Going forward, we should see improvements in wastewater recycling as well as advances in well casings. In some states where fracking is occurring on a growing scale, some drinking wells were contaminated before any fracking took place. In other cases, like within Pennsylvania, some instances of water pollution could be attributed to mine runoffs where fracking wells were originally blamed. And while fracking requires large amounts of water, irrigation for ornamental landscaping requires much more water. More and more requirements are being enacted to force gas drillers to return wastewater with fewer dissolved minerals and salts.
When environmentalists are involved in a movement, they tend to use strategies which incorporate elements of hysteria. Take the Matt Damon movie titled “The Promised Land”, set to release very soon. This movie attempts to attack fracking by using a tried and true Hollywood plot device: those who would exploit a natural resource are villains, while meek innocents who dwell in the locality of the resource in question are bestowed with mythic anti-villain goodness. However, upon closer look, the film is being financed by Abu Dhabi’s state-owned oil company. Why, you ask? Because the biggest fossil fuel promise in decades – the new availability of energy within the good ‘ol USA due to fracking – is a direct threat to Middle Eastern oil exporters.
Fracking is providing amazing economic and job prospects, lowering utility bills, and bringing welcome revenue to towns and counties that have long needed positive economic prospects. The villains in the fracking world aren’t the companies or individuals participating in fracking operations. In fact, they are those who use false and misleading propaganda to further their own agendas. Environmentalism is big business (just ask Al Gore, who has made millions off of “being green”). When a group tries to convince you that fracking is bad – check their own funding sources.
This writer believes that a responsible approach to fracking should alleviate the concerns of those who are opposed to it. The technologies and equipment used in the fracking industry have vastly improved in recent years, and the drilling industry gives far more attention to environmental concerns than during oil booms of the past. Many towns and cities that are now experiencing economic gains due to fracking have been poverty-stricken for many years. For example, in Ohio, where this writer grew up, the towns that stand to gain the most from fracking growth are paradoxically some of the most economically challenged regions within Ohio, and have been for generations. The very southeastern portion of Ohio, which is the very northern edge of Appalachia, has been economically distressed for decades. Yet this is the same area where Ohio’s portion of the vast Marcellus Shale oil fields are located, one of the country’s largest oil shale discoveries.
A balanced approach to fracking requires an appreciation for facts and environmental responsibility, and a willingness to avoid hysteria. Such an approach should also realize that jobs, opportunity, and energy needs must be made available if the resources are there. Fracking can offer great benefits – but the challenges must be acknowledged and dealt with.