“Fracking” is a technique used to extract gas and oil from shale rock, via drilling into the earth and using high-pressure water to force open fissures from which to take the gas. Less commonly known as hydraulic fracturing, this process has recently come under fire by environmentalists, who claim that fracking is more harmful to the earth than it is beneficial. Some countries have banned the process altogether, while others largely rely on fracking as their main energy source; the question is, who is right?
Here are three arguments supporting fracking, and three arguments against it.
Back the frack
Jobs, jobs, jobs
Fracking technology has rejuvenated local economies and provided job security for people previously unemployed. Between 2005 and 2012, over 725,000 jobs were created thanks to the introduction of fracking, which reduced the US unemployment rate by 0.5%. A nationwide study found that communities benefit monetarily from having drilling sites in the vicinity, showing an average income increase of 6% and a 10% increase in employment for said communities. While having drilling sites nearby could be seen as a hassle, the economic benefits to surrounding communities makes it worth the inconvenience.
Cutting out coal
Until recently, coal was responsible for over 50% of the US’s electricity generation. But this dipped to less than 37% in 2012 thanks to fracking; America’s carbon emissions have dropped over 800 million tons as a result, which might help reduce the effects of climate change. Burning natural gases (made possible by fracking) instead of coal cuts almost every kind of air pollutant and C02 from the atmosphere, resulting in fewer harmful particles in the air.
Reduces foreign reliance on energy products
In the last few years, vast reserves of resources like oil and gas have suddenly been made available due to the creation of cost-effective extraction techniques, like fracking, which are completely transforming the US’s perspective on energy. Thanks to fracking, America is now a leading natural gas producer, in addition to increasing potential oil and gas exports. This has lowered US dependence on foreign sources for oil and gas; according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), shale production from fracking helped reduce foreign petroleum imports by over 40% since 2006. This significantly reduced the price of gas and created a huge boom in domestic oil production.
What the frack are you thinking?
Negative environmental impact
Extracting natural gas through fracking has dire environmental consequences. A 2014 study on the environmental costs and benefits of fracking claims that fracking could potentially release toxic chemicals into the air and water, in addition to contaminating drinking water through surface spills and other means. Wastewater disposal – a byproduct of fracking that gets injected into the ground – is partially responsible for a hundredfold increase in man-made earthquakes, threatening 3.5 million people a year. Additionally, there is evidence that fracking causes severe methane leaks, which traps heat in our atmosphere and can be devastating for the climate.
Threatens property value
While fracking may have created job security for some, it has economic ramifications for communities surrounding the drilling sites. There are no laws in place to protect property owners, and the community members don’t have a say – or a warning – when drilling projects pop up around their houses. This introduces increased noise pollution, light pollution and traffic. As a result of these disruptions, property values in the vicinity of drilling sites often decrease dramatically. Even the former CEO of Exxon (one of the largest oil and gas corporations in America), Rex Tillerson, claimed that drilling would do “irreparable harm” to his property value, and he sued a water supply corporation to stop construction of a water tower that was being built to supply drilling operations in the vicinity.
There are alternative solutions
Fracking isn’t the only source to tap for energy, and therefore isn’t necessary. Unlike finite resources like fossil fuels and shale rock, which eventually run out and negatively impact the environment, renewable energy sources regenerate and can be used continuously. For example, solar energy takes sunlight and allows it to be used for electricity, hot water, heat, etc. A study published in the journal Science of the Total Environment ranked fracking between 4th-8th place in sustainability when compared to other energy resources. In comparison, renewable energy significantly reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and is the cleaner pathway to energy consumption.
The Bottom Line: Fracking allows for the acquisition of important resources and employs many people in the process, yet the potential costs to the environment and property values may be high enough to stop the endeavor altogether. What do you think? Should we keep drilling, or is it time to table fracking in favor of something else?