What is hydraulic fracturing or fracking, and is it safe for our environment? What types of environmental issues are there with fracking? Are the laws in place for fracking good enough or should they be stronger? How much energy does the United States need for the future and is hydraulic fracturing the answer? These are all good questions that deserve good answers. Simply put hydraulic fracturing is taking a lot of water pressure and blasting it deep into the earth to create fractures in rock. By creating those fractures it allows oil and natural gas to seep out of the well within the rock.
Technically speaking, hydraulic fracturing is drilling into the earth. Steel pipes are placed inside the well as companies drill deeper into the earth. This is done to ensure that no groundwater is contaminated during the procedure. Once the well is at the desired depth, water, sand and chemicals are forced down the well with immense pressure. Depending on the drilling site, the chemicals that are used will vary. Different sites require different chemicals. It is because of these chemicals that there are environmental issues.
There are generally four major environmental issues to speak of. Water contamination, management of waste water, air quality and the chemicals used are those major issues. Water contamination may be the largest issue at hand though. Water contamination is normally done through spills and faulty well construction. This can be such a major issue because if test are not done on a regular basis people may be drinking and bathing in harmful water. “In 2010, residents of Pavilion, Wyoming complained about the condition of their well water.
In December 2011, EPA released a report finding that compounds associated with fracking chemicals had been detected in the groundwater beneath the community and health officials advised residents not to drink the water. ” (Reece & O’Day) In this particular instant the people of Pavilion may very well have developed major health issues due to fracking. It took at least a year for anyone to come to a conclusion as to what was wrong with the water. Mismanagement of the waste water can be almost as bad as water contamination.
The waste water that comes from fracking has a number of things in it that are harmful to the environment. The waste water can contain anything from radioactive materials to the chemicals used in the process. However, there are several things that can be done with the waste water but most of them aren’t really solutions. In fact the only real solution is taking the water to a treatment or recycling facility. The other alternatives include surface impoundments for storage or deep well injections. Neither of these options takes care of the problem.
They are simply out of sight, out of mind solutions. Air quality is another issue with fracking. The process will release methane and other greenhouse gasses. While there are steps being taken to reduce these gasses, they are still being emitted into our atmosphere. The gasses that are released into the atmosphere are contributing to the global climate change. Too much of these gasses and the world will start to shut down and die. The last major issue with hydraulic fracturing is the chemicals that are used in the process.
Because each well requires different chemicals operators are only required to keep records of the chemicals they use. There is a long list of chemicals that are generally used in fracking. Hydrochloric Acid, Acetic Acid and Thioglycolic Acid are just some of the chemicals that are being used. State and federal regulations on hydraulic fracturing are trying to achieve the same end goal. As with all state and federal laws and regulations, federal is more broad and simple. State law and regulations tend to be more precise and detailed.
They take what federal has set in place and expand on it. Federal regulations for hydraulic fracturing are truly simple. They really only focus on three things, the constructions of the well, the treatment of flow back water and the discloser of the chemicals used in the process. The integrity of the well most be verified using a cement bond log. All the chemicals that are used must be submitted to the Bureau of Land Management. State regulations however, are much more in depth. Each state has their own laws and regulations.
Wyoming for example requires that all water supplies within a quart mile of drilling sites be identified before drilling. While Pennsylvania requires that pressure testing is done prior to completion. New York on the other hand focuses more on visual, noise, greenhouse gas and invasive species mitigation plans. While each state has their own rules and regulations, they are all trying to do the same thing, protect their states land and best interest, as well as bring down the price of energy and lower Americas dependency on foreign fuels. America’s energy demand will almost definitely never go down.
It is probably a safe bet to say that it won’t even maintain its current level. As more and more people come in to America and lifespans continue to get longer, the need for more energy is almost certainly going to continue to rise. Hydraulic Fracturing is a relatively safe way for America to meet its growing demand for energy. According to the Institute for Energy research’s Senior Vice President Daniel Kish “Safe, innovative hydraulic fracturing technologies have freed the United States from years of fear mongering that America’s energy future was bleak.” (Unk)
Furthermore “Of the 900,000 barrels per day increase Energy Information Administration has reported, 750,000 of it came from shale plays on non-federal lands in Texas and North Dakota. ” (Unk) With all that being stated, it looks like America will be ok in the near future. Who’s to say what will happen in the future but with hydraulic fracturing America will be better off. While some people may say that we should stop hydraulic fracturing others are saying just the opposite.
The environmental issues that come with fracking are not necessarily bad enough to stop the process. Without the fuels we get from the process, America may not be able to produce or obtain enough fuel to sustain our energy use. With the laws and regulations that are in place now and the ones that will continue to improve the whole process, fracking may become one of the safest and most reliable sources of energy. There is no doubt that we as a nation will continue to do hydraulic fracturing and continue to broaden the number of sites in use.