Every time some new technology or methodology is invented, it divides the opinions of experts and general public. Some become the advocates of the new technology and are thus called proponents. Some become skeptical of the technology and become critics. In regards to power or different methods of generating power, almost every new method has been criticized and endorsed in equal measures. Even today, the world is split on the pros and cons of nuclear energy. It is thus obvious that the world will be split on fracking pros and cons.
Fracking is hydraulic fracturing. It is a process used to drill wells underground in search of natural gas. While oil is also explored but the primary target is to obtain natural gas that is trapped underground. There are many gas wells in the world where fracking is currently underway. The process of fracking is based on the same old concept of drilling, which led to the boom of oil exploration, but there is a difference. Fracking uses water, chemicals and sand and the mix is blasted onto underground rocks in huge amounts.
Since every story has multiple narratives or at least perspectives of interpretation, fracking too has a positive and negative tale to tell. Fracking has become extremely popular; as such it has become an industry in itself. Fracking is economic and that has suited the corporations that drill oil and gas wells. The purpose of fracking is to obtain natural gas which is a form of alternate energy. Thus, in other words, one cannot call fracking to be outright wrong since the eventual purpose is good but then one cannot ignore the challenges or threats that fracking poses for the world, the immediate regions around the wells and for the environment.
1. Fossil fuels are a great reserve for energy. They are largely untapped, especially under the landmass of North America. Fracking helps in accessing this natural treasure which is a better alternative to coal and thermal power and a safer alternative to nuclear energy.
2. Countries exploring gas wells using fracking can become self dependent as far as energy is concerned. It would make the global oil industry much more stable and less predatory.
3. Fracking doesn’t threaten the groundwater reserves, apparently. The reasoning provided by some experts is that natural oil or gas reserves are much below that the water table levels.
4. Natural gas is a better alternative because it has much less carbon emissions.
5. Fracking has developed into an industry which has generated lots of jobs in the recent past and is likely to offer plenty of new jobs in the near future.
1. The groundwater reserves do face a threat from fracking. Even if the oil and natural gas wells are beneath or much below the water tables, the sand and chemicals being used along with water during fracking have the chance of getting mixed with groundwater or surface water. That can lead to massive contamination and pollution.
2. Many companies don’t disclose the nature of the mixture that is being used in fracking. What chemicals are used, what kind of sand is being used and how is the entire mixture prepared or if there is any risk of the mixture causing any harm to the workers or the immediate environment while the blasting is done; all such realities are unknown.
3. Noise and light pollution is unavoidable with fracking but the risk of air pollution is much more worrisome. Scientists are yet to figure out if fracking causes harmful gases to escape from underground rock formations and get blended with the air that locals around the wells would breathe.
4. Fracking uses a lot of water and wastes a lot in the process as well. That certainly isn’t a comforting reality.
Overview of Fracking
Fracking cannot be looked at through a prism which classifies everything as black or white. Fracking is in the grey. The advantages and the disadvantages are often interlaced. Hence, before we delve into the absolute pros and cons of fracking, let us look at the correlation of the same.
Fracking consumes a lot of water. The entire process is heavily dependent on water as the key element and that is certainly going to impact any region. That is a huge disadvantage. But on the flip side, fracking explores natural gas, obtaining which would reduce the dependence on coal and nuclear energy. It takes a lot of water to general thermal and nuclear energy. Does the consumption of water during fracking make up for the huge amounts of water that is not needed to generate power from the obtained natural gas? In a way fracking wastes water and in a way it saves water as well. One has to do the math to actually calculate the difference and if it is positive or negative. That math has not been done yet.
A lot about fracking and its impacts is unknown. For instance, no one knows what fracking does to the animal kingdom. Is it affected at all, is there a positive impact or a negative impact? Many critics feel that the unknown is to be feared. But to the flip side, the outcome of fracking is certainly good for the world including humans and the animal kingdom at large. Nuclear energy also requires exploration and coal mining hasn’t necessarily benefited the animal kingdom or the environment.
Fracking is considered to be a risk for the immediate environment since it can cause air pollution. Volatile organic compounds that escape the underground rock formations can dissipate into the air around the wells and that can pose severe health risks for the people, plants and animals living in the area. However, there is a flip side here again. Obtaining natural gas would curb the dependence on thermal power. When coal is used as a fuel, it generates copious amounts of carbon dioxide. Sulfur dioxide, ash and mercury are also among the concerning emissions. Natural gas has none of these byproducts or emissions to concern us with.
It is unclear if the greenhouse gas emissions would increase or decrease as fracking becomes more popular and is put to use across the world. There is a concern that methane losses from the oil or natural gas wells can threaten the environment. But the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions due to using natural gas and not coal might just balance the whole scenario. It is still in the realm of speculated discussions or at best, educated guessing.
One major disadvantage that most people agree with is the contamination of the groundwater. Where does all that water which is blasted onto the rocks go? Where does the waste water laced with sand and chemicals get disposed? If they get blended with groundwater or any underground water reserves, then those oases or tables are certainly getting contaminated. The worse reality is that those tables are expected to be uncontaminated of all impurities since they are underground and the water is not going to be subjected to any natural filtration process since the uppermost layers of the crust are atop the tables and thus cannot clean the water reserves.