In Part One of this series, we explored the issue of Safety in terms of human cost and financial cost of Hydroelectric Fracturing (Fracking) as a viable energy source. In Part Two, we compared and contrasted the major energy sources other than Fracking, analyzing pros and cons as well as the cost to the cute and cuddly animals that share our planet. Finally, here in Part Three, we will take a closer look at Fracking itself and then reach a conclusion to the question posed when we began this journey. To frack or not to frack? That is the question.
Energy Source #9: Fracking
So now, we come to fracking. What exactly is fracking? Incredibly, there is a website called “What is Fracking” which perfectly answers that question.
“Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is the process of extracting natural gas from shale rock layers deep within the earth. Fracking makes it possible to produce natural gas extraction in shale plays that were once unreachable with conventional technologies. Recent advancements in drilling technology have led to new man-made hydraulic fractures in shale plays that were once not available for exploration. In fact, three dimensional imaging helps scientists determine the precise locations for drilling.
Horizontal drilling (along with traditional vertical drilling) allows for the injection of highly pressurized fracking fluids into the shale area. This creates new channels within the rock from which natural gas is extracted at higher than traditional rates. This drilling process can take up to a month, while the drilling teams delve more than a mile into the Earth’s surface. After which, the well is cased with cement to ensure groundwater protection, and the shale is hydraulically fractured with water and other fracking fluids.”
Fracking is safer in terms of environmental impact than any energy industry available today. It has brought the cost of energy down markedly, and has the promise of making the United States self sufficient in energy production. There have as yet been no demonstrable, proven problems with fracking, despite years of implementation, and a million and half fracking wells drilled. However, there are concerns, and many states, including North Carolina, have placed a moratorium on the industry expanding operations within their borders.
From 2003-2008, there were 648 deaths of workers in the industry, a full third of which was not due to unique aspects of the industry but due to truck driving accidents. The concerns of tainted ground water as a result of fracking or tainted wells has been unsubstantiated. Not a single fracking well has ever been determined to have contaminated the water supply. The concerns about methane release through fracking have undergone a seismic readjustment in just the past week. The EPA recently released reports of revised estimates of the danger of methane release through fracking as markedly reduced, despite the fact that fracking operations have increased by nearly 40% since 1990. Furthermore, the EPA is confident that fracking leaks can be controlled by better gaskets, maintenance, and monitoring.
Fracking benefits are manifold- natural gas is plentiful, clean, available, cheap to extract, and perhaps most importantly, severs our reliance on foreign oil from people who want to kill us “infidel, Capitalist pigs”. Significant reductions in CO2 are accomplished with the switch from coal to natural gas. There is an ensuing reduction in acid rain, and size of our “carbon footprint” if you worry about that sort of thing.
And how about fracking’s effect on the animals – the cute and cuddly, irreplaceable animals of our world? It is true, there is documented evidence of the death of 17 cows who drank the water of a fracking leak.
The death of 17 cows doesn’t seem as monumental as it did after considering the droves of animals destroyed by the other energy options. (see Part 1 and 2 of this series.)
1. By far, less cute cuddly animals are killed by fracking than any other energy source. As an animal lover, this is #1 Reason on my list.
2. Natural gas prices have plummeted since fracking came on the scene. Heating homes with natural gas has cost consumers less than most other energy sources, with less negative environmental impact.
3. Natural gas is clean energy, the cleanest of all the fossil fuels. Renewable energy cannot provide even a fifth of our energy needs at this time, thus fossil fuels are necessary. (Unless we would like to go back to the non-fuel model that is advocated by some groups, and I would refer you back to hypothermia deaths per year for a strong reason to resist any urge in that direction.)
4. Fracking has singlehandedly improved the economy in Pennsylvania, despite the recession. It can do the same in any area where it is allowed.
“Since the 2008 recession and the subsequent spike in unemployment, few industries have done more to revive the job market in America. In 2012 there were over three million people employed in some way through the natural gas industry. The development of drilling in the Marcellus shale formation created 72,000 new jobs in Pennsylvania alone between the fourth quarter of 2009 and the first quarter of 2011.”
5. Risks are low- despite sensationalist claims otherwise, the EPA has not found a single contaminated well out of 1.5 million hydrofracked wells.
6. Independence- most experts believe there is enough domestic natural gas reserves to power America for centuries! Ending imports from oil producing countries that hate us “infidel, capitalist pigs” would be a boon politically and financially. (http://www.biggerpieforum.org/How-does-fracking-work#Q10)
How Much Natural Gas Might be in NC?
No one knows until one starts drilling. Original estimates of the huge Marcellus shale formation in New England/Pa/Ohio area were identical to the estimates of what may lie under the NC surface. Those estimates turned out to be far lower than the actual amount of natural gas discovered. It is obviously hard to predict with accuracy what may be there until it is actually explored. Senator Newton, a Republican North Carolina legislator, wants the moratorium on fracking to be lifted immediately.
“The Marcellus Shale, which has provided a huge boost to the economies of Virginia, Pennsylvania … was originally estimated at 2 trillion cubic feet, an estimate virtually identical to that of North Carolina,” Newton said. “With the Marcellus Shale, they didn’t know how big it was going to be until they started exploring. When they did, they realized it was a lot bigger than they thought it was going to be. All because they thought it was worth exploring.” (http://www.luminanews.com/article.asp?aid=11798)
One of the biggest concerns voiced by the opposition regards increased seismic activity near fracking sites. Proponents of fracking do not deny small earthquakes can occur, but note that this risk is also present in other industries, and is considered an acceptable risk when weighed against benefits.
“The possibility of earthquakes is also a much discussed topic. What fracking opponents fail to mention is that similar worries arise from geothermal exploration (an increasingly prevalent source of alternative energy), as well as underground carbon dioxide storage. Both of these enjoy nearly universal support, but do come with certain risks. Fracking, though really no more of an earthquake risk, and arguably not an earthquake risk at all, faces far more criticism.” http://www.biggerpieforum.org/How-does-fracking-work#Q10
Life is not without risk. Fracking is not without risk, though the risks seem to be far less than those of other energy sources. As my information in this mini-series shows, all energy sources, even renewable ones, have risks, not only to cute cuddly creatures, but also to the workers employed in the industry, and the environment. After reviewing the material I gathered in writing this article, it seems to me the benefits of fracking outweigh the risks. Nonetheless, I would encourage farmers to put a fence around the fracking site if you have cows.
“The greatest risk to man is not that he aims too high and misses, but that he aims too low and hits.”
By: Vicky Kaseorg
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