North Carolina currently has a moratorium on hydroelectric fracturing (fracking) which will be lifted in 2014. Fracking is the process whereby natural gas is extracted from underground rock through forced infusion of chemicals and water. It is not without controversy. When the moratorium lifts, if we are to believe the detractors, cows will drop dead as contaminated water from the fracking wells seep across the Piedmont, poisoned ground water will infect all of us with strange and horrifying diseases, poisonous methane will be released into our lungs, earthquakes will shatter our fine china to smithereens, and our coastline will resemble Swiss cheese from all the fracking drills poking the Tar Heel mantle.
Are they right? How safe is fracking? All those dire warnings are ominous. Personally, as an animal lover, I don’t want to see cows die. Is there a valid concern regarding cow deaths from fracking? One of the first articles I read cited 17 verified cow deaths from a fracking leak. I almost stopped my research right then and there. 17 cows died from fracking! Why read on? What other dangers exist? What about the risks of water contamination, poisonous release of methane gas, and earthquakes? How does fracking measure up to other energy sources in terms of destroying our planet?
The subject is complex and therefore this article will be broken into three parts. In Part 1, I will discuss the human mortality rate associated with different energy sources. In Part 2, I will compare and contrast fracking with other energy sources, with a special emphasis on animal deaths because I love animals and those 17 dead cows weigh heavily on my conscience. In part three, I will strive to conclude with a breathtaking summary about the desirability of fracking NC.
First, while I am very concerned about animal life and how our energy choices adversely affect them, most people care more about human life. For those humanophiles, the cost in human life for each energy source may alone sway opinions.
To frack or not to frack?… That is the question. Below is a chart from Forbes magazine that compares the various energy industries and their mortality rates.
Mortality Rates For Major Energy Sources
The table below lists the mortality rate of each energy source as deaths per trillion kWhrs produced. The numbers are a combination of actual direct deaths and epidemiological estimates, and are rounded to two significant figures.
Energy Source Mortality Rate (deaths/trillionkWhr)
Coal – global average 170,000 (50% global electricity)
Coal – China 280,000 (75% China’s electricity)
Coal – U.S. 15,000 (44% U.S. electricity)
Oil 36,000 (36% of energy, 8% of electricity)
Natural Gas 4,000 (20% global electricity)
Biofuel/Biomass 24,000 (21% global energy)
Solar (rooftop) 440 (< 1% global electricity)
Wind 150 (~ 1% global electricity)
Hydro – global average 1,400 (15% global electricity)
Nuclear – global average 90 (17% global electricity w/Chern&Fukush)
Coal is by far the most deadly energy source, though much more so in China than anywhere else in the world. It is clear that anyone interested in a mining career should steer clear of China. The next deadliest energy source is oil, followed by biofuel. The natural gas industry which includes fracking is comparatively safe, in the middle of the pack of energy related deaths. About 10,000 people die each year from coal use, but only 1,000 from natural gas. Solar is fifth, wind is sixth, and then somewhat surprisingly, the safest energy source in terms of mortality rate is nuclear! Unfortunately, the three safest energy sources (in terms of human mortality) produce about only 18% of global energy needs. (Wind and Solar together don’t even add up to 2% of our energy needs but they do make the Go Green crowd happy.) Natural gas already produces 20% of global energy needs, though fracking is still far from fully developed and utilized. Coal provides 50% of global energy, but the mortality rate should give you pause, especially if you are from China.
How about the actual cost monetarily of the varying major energy sources?
2008 US ELECTRICITY GENERATION BY SOURCE & WEIGHTED AVERAGE COST PER KWH
Energy Source % of Total Cost per kWh Weighted Avg Cost
Nuclear 19.7% $0.04 $0.008
Hydro 6.1% $0.03 $0.002
Coal 48.7% $0.04 $0.022
Natural Gas 21.4% $0.10 $0.022
Petroleum 1.1% $0.10 $0.001
Other Renewables 3.0% $0.15 $0.005
In the above chart, Hydroelectric power is cheapest, followed by nuclear and coal, but natural gas and petroleum are equal. Other renewables, presumably solar and wind are pricey. Natural gas, extracted through fracking is one tenth the price of petroleum according to some studies, making it one of the cheapest energy sources! The major concern in one article was that fracking would bring natural gas costs so low that our society would not be likely to move beyond fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy. (http://harvardmagazine.com/2013/01/frackings-future)
Summary: Fracking is freaking frugal!
Continue reading part 2 here….
By: Vicky Kaseorg
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