Hydraulic fracking is the process of accessing oil and natural gas resources by using fluids and materials to restore or create small fractures in a formation. After a hole has been drilled to access those resources, the fluid, which is 99% water and sand, encourages the well to maximize its resources. That, in turn, provides us with the energy that we use every day.
According to FracFocus.org, up to 80% of the wells drilled in the United States may require hydraulic fracking to remain operational within the next 10 years.
Here are some of the hydraulic fracking pros and cons to consider when evaluating this overall process.
List of the Pros of Hydraulic Fracking
1. It is a process that protects local water supplies.
Hydraulic fracking is the last step, not the first step, in accessing natural resources. After a hole has been drilled, steel casings are inserted into the well, sometimes to depths of 4,000 feet. Holes are drilled in the casings and filled with cement. It is a process that is repeated until the resource is reached. Only then are the fluids used to encourage extraction.
2. It provides access to cleaner energy resources.
As hydraulic fracking increases, the amount of coal used for energy typically decreases. In the United States, the amount of natural gas consumption for electricity generation went up 10 percentage points while coal-fired plants fell to just one-third of the U.S.-based energy supply. Burning natural gas is cleaner than coal, produces fewer particulates, and can even reduce localized emissions.
3. It is a process that has been proven to be safe.
The Environmental Protection Agency in the U.S. conducted a 5-year study on hydraulic fracking and found 0 events of water contamination that were connected to the extraction process. Numerous officials at the local, state, and national level in the U.S. have gone on record to state that in terms of safety, hydraulic fracking is one of the best methods of energy extraction that is being used right now. Every industry experiences accidents and containment issues, but in terms of overall safety, few are better than hydraulic fracking when it comes to energy.
4. It is not a permanent process.
Wells are drilled. Containment processes are implemented. Fracking allows the resources to be obtained. Once this process is completed, the active wells leave a limited presence on the landscape. Many wells can be active for several years at a time with only minimal maintenance required. That makes hydraulic fracking a cost-effective way to obtain the energy we need on a regular basis.
5. It uses the same chemicals we all use.
Just 1% of the hydraulic fracking fluid is chemically-based. In some cases, the amount of chemicals is just 0.5%. The two most common substances that are added to the fluid are sodium chloride and guar gum, which are found in almost everyone’s home. The chances of contamination are often greater at home than they are from within a well.
6. It can reduce property tax rates.
In areas where hydraulic fracking is common, property tax rates often go down. That is because the revenues generated from fracking are funneled into schools, infrastructure, and social services. In Colorado, some communities have seen stable or reduced property tax levies since 2001 because of fracking activities. That means cheaper energy, a cheaper cost of living, and more discretionary spending money for households.
List of the Cons of Hydraulic Fracking
1. It may still have unknown consequences.
Water and sand may be natural materials, but having sand blasted into the atmosphere from the fracking process is not a natural event. Crystalline silica is an occupational lung carcinogen, defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and about 150 people die from silicosis every year. There is evidence that silica exposure can lead to COPD, kidney disease, and autoimmune conditions with consistent exposure.
2. It contributes to global emission levels.
Carbon dioxide is the greenhouse gas that most folks talk about, but methane is another contributor to the potential for global warming. The effects of methane can be up to 20 times greater than what the effects of carbon dioxide happen to be. Hydraulic fracking is known to create methane leaks or open trapped methane deposits that are large enough that the effects of using the cleaner natural gas could be negated.
3. It causes earthquakes.
The USGS Earthquake Hazards Program is quick to point out that hydraulic fracking is not causing most induced earthquakes. Yet the U.S. Energy Information Administration clearly reports that the number of earthquakes with a 3.0 magnitude or greater have skyrocketed in Oklahoma during a surge in fracking activity. The state used to receive a couple of low-magnitude earthquakes each year. Now they experience these earthquakes every day.
4. It has unknown chemicals that are used.
It is true that a majority of the chemicals used for hydraulic fracking are common household items. Then there is the minority of chemicals that are used that are kept out of the public realm. About 20% of the chemicals that are added to the fluid for the fracking process are considered to be proprietary information. There are no laws that require companies engaged in hydraulic fracking to release this information.
5. It creates household disruptions.
Most people do not own the rights to the oil and gas deposits that may be accessed on their property. Companies that purchase these rights are able to move onto owned land, drill there, and maintain a well indefinitely without any other consent. Up to 15 million people can have their lives permanently disrupted simply because land rights are different than water rights or energy rights.
6. It creates high levels of wastewater.
During a good year in California, about 8 billion gallons of oil can be produced through hydraulic fracking methods. To achieve that level of energy production, over 130 billion gallons of wastewater is generated. That wastewater must go somewhere and not every treatment facility is designed to handle the volume or chemicals that are used to create the hydraulic fluid. That means the water tends to be stored in ponds that can leech chemicals into the surrounding soil.
7. It creates additional pollution concerns.
Hydraulic fracking provides an entire industry of pollution that must be considered. Trucks move in and out of sites constantly. Most operations run around the clock. The weight of the equipment for fracking can damage local infrastructure. There can be noise pollution concerns. All of these issues must be weighed by affected communities to determine if the value of fracking is worth its cost.
These hydraulic fracking pros and cons suggest that it can be a process that safely accesses natural energy resources. It also suggests that, without responsible management, there are big safety risks that must also be considered.