Even if you’re completely unfamiliar with the oil and gas industry, you’ve likely heard of “fracking” as it’s been in the news a lot in recent years. However, have you stopped and wondered what exactly fracking is and why it’s so controversial? The use of fracking for oil drilling has grown exponentially, so there must be an upside to it.
In this article we are going to break down what fracking is and compare the pros and cons. This isn’t meant to sway your views either way or try to enforce some kind of political agenda. We are simply going to lay out the facts and let you decide for yourself what you think about it all.
What is Fracking?
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a drilling process that’s been used since the 1940s that allows the recovery of oil and gas from shale rock. The actual process involves drilling deep into the earth, usually about a mile or two to get underneath the shale formation, and gradually turning horizontal to drill for several thousand feet under the rock. The vertical portion of the well is then cased and cemented to keep it sealed. Small perforations are created in the vertical pipe and a drilling solution (about 90% water, 9.5% sand, and 0.5% additives) is pumped at a high enough pressure to fracture the shale through those perforations. The grains of sand hold open the fractures so gas and oil can flow out into the pipe.
Although fracking has been around for decades, its widespread use didn’t start until around the year 2000. Since then, the United States has experienced an energy boom and is well on their way to becoming the leading oil producer in the world. The US is already the leading natural gas producer in the world. Fracking allows drilling companies to extract oil and gas locked inside of shale rock that wouldn’t have been accessible before.
The Pros of Fracking
After decades of scarcity, the United States is predicted to be completely energy independent within the next four years. Unconventional drilling techniques, such as horizontal drilling and fracking, are the largest factors in America’s surge in energy production, even allowing them to pass Saudi Arabia in total energy production. Not only have gas prices gone down dramatically, but it’s estimated that the US and Canada will have gas security for the next 100 years from the increased production provided by fracking.
Natural gas is cleaner and cheaper than gasoline or diesel. We are continuing to see more fleets (mail carriers, public transportation, etc) shift to natural gas, since prices in the United States are about a third to half of what they are in Europe and other areas of the world. In addition, there’s less risk associated with transportation since it doesn’t need to be shipped halfway across the world.
Using natural gas to produce electricity, instead of coal, improves air quality. Natural gas use produces significantly less carbon dioxide emissions, minimizing air pollution. Also, there’s none of the mercury and ash emissions associated with coal.
Fracking dramatically increases the return on investment in drilling. Aside from the benefits we all enjoy, it makes sense why oil and gas exploration companies around the world are jumping at the chance to use fracking techniques in their drilling programs.
The Cons of Fracking
Many people feel that attempting to extract every last bit of natural gas and oil from the ground is delaying the inevitable. They are concerned that the success of fracking is a distraction from finding other alternative, and more sustainable, sources of energy.
Fracking uses a lot of water. Many areas of the country have been in a severe drought and the amount of fresh water required for fracking is concerning, especially as clean water becomes more and more scarce. In fact, the entire process of hauling water to the drilling site, storing it, using it, and hauling it to a facility to be cleaned is a very expensive part of the drilling process.
Pollution from fracking is very limited when everything is done correctly. However, some companies are careless with how they dispose of waste water and of course, accidents do occur. There have been instances of ground water becoming contaminated from exposure to waste water.
While some oil producing states such as Texas, Michigan, and Wyoming require drilling companies to list all of the chemicals used during drilling, not all states do. It can be difficult for local communities to prepare for accidents or emergencies when they don’t know what chemicals are being used.
Fracking especially, and drilling in general, requires the use of a lot of very heavy vehicles. Thanks to horizontal drilling, we are seeing a rapid increase in drilling in heavily populated areas. Residents in these areas complain of noise pollution from all of the large vehicles that come and go at all hours of the day.
Kyle Stout is a freelance writer based out of Tulsa, OK. This article was written on behalf of Pemex English Library.