Did You Know?
In the 2010 Academy Award nominated documentary Gasland, a Colorado man is seen as he opens up his kitchen faucet and sets the water on fire. The documentary claimed that this was caused by the gas released by shale rocks during the process of fracking, which got mixed with the ground water.
Later on, however, Colorado officials were able to prove that it was actually the fact that the man himself had unknowingly dug his water-well into a naturally occurring pocket of methane, and not fracking that was to be blamed for the incident.
The Oil and Natural Gas sector is one of the biggest industries in the world. Its annual figures are nothing short of mind-boggling, we aren't speaking about the revenue! We are talking about the huge volumes of oil and natural gas that this industry extracts every year. This is an undeniable proof of our ever-increasing dependency on petroleum products.
Modernization has brought with it convenience, but this convenience has come at a cost. Natural gas resources are depleting fast, as the demands keep increasing each year. This has caused the natural gas industry to explore newer ways to more efficiently tap into the resources locked beneath the Earth's surface. Fracking for natural gas is one such method.
Fracking is considered as a breakthrough technology, capable of revolutionizing the fossil fuel industry. However, while many energy experts laud the numerous benefits of hydraulic fracturing, environmentalists claim that the dangers to the environment are far greater.
But, in order to make an informed decision, we must go into greater depths (literally!) of the fracking technology. Let's begin, therefore, by understanding what fracking actually is.
Over the past 50 years, we have come to rely more than ever on it, and this has caused an explosion of demand, which has resulted in the depletion of many gas wells. Therefore, to keep pace with the growing need, a new method was devised to obtain gas from the more difficult-to-tap shale rocks. This new method was called 'hydraulic fracturing', or fracking.
Since the year 2000, fracking has been successfully and extensively used in the US and Canada, and the shale gas thus extracted has become one of the largest sources of natural gas in these countries.
In a nutshell, it involves cracking open or fracturing the shale rock beneath the Earth's surface to access the gas which is locked up within it. While it may appear quite easy and straightforward, this system of extraction actually relies on an intricately designed procedure for it to work.
First and foremost, a well is dug in the possible extraction site. Digging is continued vertically downwards until the underground shale rock formation is reached. After that, vertical digging is halted, and digging is resumed laterally into the shale rocks to provide access a large area within it.
Then, a 'fracturing fluid' is pumped under high pressure through this well. This fluid is made up of water, sand, and chemicals. It causes the shale to crack, and the natural gas within it is released into the well, allowing for its collection up on the surface.
Pros of Fracking for Natural Gas
► Studies have concluded that there is a large volume of untapped shale gas present in the U.S. Using fracking to effectively extract this natural resource can help decrease America's dependency on the unstable Middle Eastern countries for its energy requirements.
► Over the past decade, a large volume of shale gas has been extracted through fracking in the U.S. This has resulted in the rate of natural gas in the country to drop significantly. According to the energy department, because of this drop in price, the use of natural gas for energy in the U.S. is now up to 65%.
► The availability of natural gas at home has decreased the country's imports, and has increased its exports. This has benefited the U.S. financially.
► Unlike coal, natural gas burns completely, resulting in far lower carbon emission. Thus, through fracking, large volumes of natural gas can be extracted, which can be used as a cleaner fuel for heating homes, running automobiles, and even for the generation of electricity.
► Various fracking sites across the U.S. combined, employ more than 1 million people. Thus, it is responsible for generating employment, thus for setting in motion cash-flow.
Cons of Fracking for Natural Gas
► The process of fracking requires massive amounts of water, with some wells needing in excess of 8 million gallons to crack the underlying shale rock formations. This has severely affected freshwater supply.
There are claims that some industries use a vicious concoction of more than 600 undisclosed chemicals. This makes it very difficult for scientists and environmentalists to predict the effect it will have on the local environment of the fracking site.
► Of the millions of gallons of water used for fracking, only 50%, at the most, is recovered. The rest is waste, polluted water, the safe disposal of which has become a major issue.
► Fracking industries claim that, because the shale beds lie far below the underground water table, chances of the fracking fluid getting mixed with pure water and contaminating it are almost nil. However, several environmentalists have cited that accidental digging of wells can cause this fracking fluid to rise up, and this can pollute ground water.
► Fracking sites employ heavy machinery for digging, which run on diesel. This causes a lot of air pollution. The roadways built for the trucks that carry water and supplies to the sites result in land pollution. Finally, the machines which run day and night on these sites cause a lot of noise and light pollution.
Though it is the need of the hour, it is important that the dangers of hydraulic fracking are looked into more carefully, and its environmental consequences are not overlooked.
What is required is a strict set of rules and guidelines for the protection of the environment, that all the fracking industries must adhere to. Only through such measures will fracking become a boon, rather than a liability to mankind.