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Long Story Short – Fracking: Critics’ Concerns Are Unsubstantiated, but Long-Term Impact Has Not Been Tested.
Is Fracking Safe?
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Oil and natural gas production have grown dramatically due to the introduction of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracking. Fracking is a drilling technique in which water, sand, and chemicals are pumped into well holes under high levels of pressure, fracturing shale formations to increase the flow of hydrocarbons toward the well. Opponents of fracking have made claims that the procedure leads to health and ecological concerns.
The Benefits Outweigh the Risks. Hydraulic fracking has dramatically decreased energy costs, not to mention the nation’s reliance on other countries for oil and gas. The boom in drilling has created jobs and revitalized economically depressed areas. Natural gas produced through fracking is displacing the burning of coal for electricity, thus lowering nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions. Natural gas produces only 44-50% of the greenhouse gas emissions compared to coal.
Claims of Contaminated Drinking Water are Unfounded. Fracking is typically done several miles below the ground’s surface. The fracking fluid, which is thickened with additives, is too dense to ascend upward toward groundwater supplies. A 2010 documentary entitled GasLand showed a Colorado man holding a flame igniting tap water. Colorado officials later determined that the homeowner had drilled a water well into a naturally occurring pocket of methane. It is highly unlikely that claims of water contamination can be traced back to fracked wells.
Water Usage for Fracking is Manageable and is less than Other Forms of Energy Extraction. It can take 7 million gallons to frack a single well, of which at least 30% is lost forever. Coal and nuclear development use 2 to 3 times as much water per energy unit, and corn ethanol uses 1000 times if the plants are irrigated.
Hydraulic Fracking Wastes Water. Most producers cite access to water supply as key factor in determining drilling locations. Shipping water by truck can be very expensive if drilling locations do not have access to nearby water. The most prolific production fields in Texas and New Mexico are in areas where water may be scarce. Often, the sacrifices of competing demand for water are born by local residents, while the benefits of fracking are received by consumers outside the area of drilling.
Adding Chemicals into the Ground May Contaminate Drinking Water. Although little evidence of water contamination associated with fracked wells exists, contamination is possible in situations of well damage. Drillers need to be conscious of water reservoir locations when drilling wells and cement the areas surrounding boreholes as a precaution.
Fracking Causes Health Problems. Lena Moffitt of the Sierra Club said that people living near fracked wells have a higher rate of nosebleeds, rashes, nausea and dizziness, premature births, and birth defects. Moffitt does not cite any statistical studies to back her assertions. It is worth noting that the chemicals added to fracking fluids is typically less than 2% of the fluid. It is unlikely that fracking causes health problems unless there is a drilling accident or damage to the well bore or pipelines.
Fracking May Cause Earth Tremors. Several studies show an increase in low-tremor earthquakes in areas of production in the last twenty years. While these studies do not prove causation, it is reasonable to assume that the fracking of shale deposits and the removal of hydrocarbons could be resulting in increased activity.
Oil and gas well fracking has been around for more than 50 years, but the growth in well fracking is a relatively new phenomenon. As such, it is probably too early to say definitively that claims of ecological and health problems are not connected to increased use of fracking. At the same time, it’s fair to say that such claims have not yet been substantiated. What is clear is that fracking is having a large positive impact on customers by lowering energy costs, decreasing safety risks, and lowering pollution.
https://www.popularmechanics.com/science/energy/g161/top-10-myths-about-natural-gas-drilling-6386593/, Seamus McGraw, Popular Mechanics, May 1, 2016.
https://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffmcmahon/2017/06/26/of-course-fracking-is-safe-stanford-prof-says/#6d8f86602d25, Jeff McMahon, Forbes, June 26, 2017.
https://www.yaleclimateconnections.org/2015/05/pros-and-cons-of-fracking-5-key-issues/?gclid=Cj0KCQjw_5rtBRDxARIsAJfxvYBfXVC4HtKPkPXhAk6kruAPfTcvoqAze1EX4Q3WiNPecHfrdCsHEoUaAthTEALw_wcB, John Wihbey, Yale Climate Connections, May 27, 2015