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Cracking the Earth One Well at a Time
As energy sources around the world depreciate, the need for alternative energy sources is arising in many communities around the world. To combat this problem, various communities look towards hydraulic fracturing for natural gas as a solution to lower the dependency of using dwindling energy sources. However, hydraulic fracturing, often referred to as fracking, does not fit the depiction of a clean energy source. Fracking, like other methods of extracting non-renewable energy sources, has the potential to risk human health and do severe environmental damage.
To comprehend the complications of hydraulic fracturing, it is important to understand what the process is. In summary, fracking is the process of drilling and injecting water bonded with chemicals into the ground at high pressure in order to fracture shale rocks, which lay thousands of feet below the surface (Dong 2013). This process exposes natural gas which is collected using well heads and industrial pipes. As of two thousand-thirteen, there have been seventeen states with over eighty two thousand wells extracting natural gas on a weekly basis (Ridlington 2013). This number is expected to grow in the coming years due to the economic benefits of fracking, therefore, many consider fracking to be a great method due to the large revenue brought in. However, the negative effects hydraulic fracturing has on the environment and human health outweigh the benefits, and the cost of the environment and human lives cannot be equally compensated.
When it comes to constructing wells and pipe systems for hydraulic fracturing, there is little consideration on protecting the environment around the site. Since most fracking in the United States is done in the prairie and grassland ecosystem, rich soil suitable for farming is usually contaminated by radioactive material such as uranium, which is a byproduct of the extraction. Drilling usually takes about a week to a month in certain areas, and after this process is done, fracking companies transfer their machinery and wells out of the area (CRED 2014). Unfortunately, the companies do not compensate a proper amount for farmers who lend their land for drilling and do not fund serious cleaning operations. Meaning many farmers are usually left with piles of toxic wastes in their river streams, as well as eroded and contaminated soil. When these toxic components are remained in the soil, bio-accumulation takes place meaning organisms pass these toxins through the food chain resulting in contamination at each trophic level (Anonymous 2013). During this period, farmers find it hard to produce crop yield, and many of their livestock tend to die out in the coming weeks. Overall, rural areas do not profit much from these drilling operations, even though it seemed like a promising financial choice at first.
A severe consequence of fracking is the resulting air pollution accumulated from drilling and extraction. Fracking companies like to advertise hydraulic fracturing as a clean and cost effective way to extract natural gas. They show evidence that fracking does not result in dark emissions of carbon unlike coal mining and oil refining. Yet, these companies fail to reflect the heavy percentage of methane emissions produced during drilling and extraction. Methane is a gas that cannot be seen clearly and is very dangerous to human health when exposed for a long period of time. Methane gas leaks are common in fracking operations, and can leak into water supply as well as accumulate over areas. Furthermore, methane is odorless meaning it is hard for citizens nearby the drilling operation to detect leaks without a proper instrument. Concentrations from five to fifteen percent of methane can result in flammable situations, creating a working hazard for drill operators and nearby residents (Light 2015). Long term exposure to methane gas can result in organ damage and nervous system disorders, this leads to a struggle for families due to the lack of medical care in rural areas. Other air contaminants resulting from hydraulic fracturing, can lead to smog, lower air quality, and buildup of carbon monoxide (2015). These factors have been all reported to contribute to lung cancer, and respiratory illness.
A key environmental issue arising from hydraulic fracturing, is the large quantities of water wasted in the process of natural gas extraction. Natural gas deposits under the surface require a strong rate of pressure in order to fracture. For that reason, fracking companies resort to using water to an extent as a way of cracking the shale rock due to it being an appropriate liquid for drilling technology. In fact, wells in Pennsylvania used over fifteen million gallons of water per day for the Marcellus Shale drilling operations in the year two thousand-eleven (Brzycki 2014). Some may believe the water used for drilling is polluted and that companies are simply recycling unclean water. However, that is not the case because, almost all the water needed for the extraction process has to be clean and purified mainly for the addition of chemicals that help assist in fracturing the rock. As more and more wells are being implemented throughout the country, the need for clean water is a priority for fracturing companies, meaning there is a risk several cities face when it comes to acquiring clean water.
Another hydrologic impact associated with fracking is the contamination of ground water supply. The chemicals bonded in the water used to fracture rock are highly concentrated, and even though most fracking chemicals remain protected from public disclosure, scientists have analyzed heavy amounts of Benzene and Xylene in the water used (Dong 2016). These chemicals when consumed can increase the risk of cancer, and cause both short and long term health effects. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates about forty thousand gallons of chemicals are mixed with the one to eight million gallons of water required for each fracturing job (2016). After the toxic water is pumped into the ground, the additional methane produced from the extraction combines with the toxic water to erode aquifers near the fracturing site, consequently contaminating clean water sources. Unfortunately, some rural cities tend to not have sufficient funds for a filtration system, causing the water supply in these cities to be contaminated. For instance, in March of 2014, a rural town in Colorado had over thirty families document cases in which fracking fluid leached into their homes when they tried running the faucet (Begos 2014). There have been over thousands of documentations by residents around the country that state incidents of contamination of fields and water supplies. This number continues to grow as fracking companies refuse to help clear the contamination left behind.
Although hydraulic fracturing has many harms, it brings a strong notion of economic growth for the American economy and people. America currently has a strong foreign dependency when it comes to acquiring energy sources. This relationship can be costly especially when supplying countries refuse to properly cooperate by staggering prices to their own liking. By switching over to practices like fracking, the United States can save billions of dollars and ease tensions between countries. Also, construction of extraction points and pipelines, will allow there to be an increase in job opportunities. This growth can be up to a fifty percent rise in employment in the natural gas industry (Rinkesh 2015). Furthermore, these jobs can help rural economies to grow, and allows infrastructure such as schools and banks to be added in these communities.
To frack or not to frack? That is the question faced by rural communities around the world. It may seem like the only solution to being financially stable for many, but the signs of destruction and risks impending from hydraulic fracturing can often blur the choices of these people. Fortunately, there are many ways of creating clean energy especially using renewable resources and technologies such as wind, solar, and hydroelectric. Therefore, fracking should be discontinued as a method of extracting natural gas due to the significant amount of complications it brings to communities around the world.