Hydro-fracking: Environmental Destruction or Fuel Beneficiary?

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          What originated a matter of 65 years ago during the petroleum industry is now ruining wells around the world. As it started to be a minor source of fuel generation, it became one of the most popular methods for fuel generation, but now created an environmental worldwide debate.

Fracking, also known as the process of drilling down into layers of the earth while simultaneously releasing water at a high pressure, it’s goal to reach a series of rock and then be injected with a mixture of chemicals, water, and sand to create a gaseous mixture [1]. When looking at this from the perspective of it’s benefits, particularly being natural gas, which is a necessary commodity to the majority of households, power plants, and the basis of many objects we use today, fracking is a necessity. But from perspectives of environmentalists, the destruction fracking does to the ground outweighs these tremendous benefits.

One of the first questions about this booming industry focuses on why the United States is involved. From a governmental standpoint, the U.S. has relied on foreign oil, and with relations between the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and the United States at times becoming thin, this 1st world country must find a different form of energy. Here is a video from a news source going further into the relationship between OPEC and the United States fracking processes.

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            Let’s begin by looking at the benefits of the fracking. The greatest benefit from an economic perspective is the price of natural gas.

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Looking at this graph below, you can clearly see due to the so called “Fracking Revolution,” natural gas prices have dropped 47% compared to years prior to 2013. Similarly, energy consumers see economic benefit, as gas bills have fallen $13 billion between the years 2007 and 2013 due to fracking. From a geographic perspective, the West South Central region and East North Central region, which includes states such as Arkansas, Lousiana, and Oklahoma as well as Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio respectively have seen upwards of over $200 per person in benefits. Essentially, if you are looking at the potential of the technology, it is widespread and already adapted, and has shown substantial returns in terms of energy and economic benefit. Yet, this does not address the health and environmental aspects.

Now with all of these benefits, this process seems like it should be widespread right? No, not so correct. When looking at fracking from a more environmental and resource conscious perspective, fracking takes up massive amounts of precious resources, take for instance the most important resource to humans, water. A study from Duke University determined that, “Energy companies used nearly 250 billion gallons of water to extract shale gas and oil from hydraulically fractured wells in the U.S. between 2005 and 2014, a new study finds. [4] During the same period, the fracked wells generated about 210 billion gallons of wastewater.” Now, if you refer this back to an economic perspective, not only are you transporting massive amounts of water to run these machines, but you are wasting gas from the trucks to transport the water.

Another concern about the production of something is its “clean energy,” also known as the production of something that releases nothing toxic and or containing no harmful byproduct. Some studies, including the documentary Gasland, highlight the environmental effects and aftermath these products provide. Below is a segment of the documentary focusing on the aftermaths of one home in Colorado:

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As you can see, there is at least some sort of environmental issues about fracking. Not only does the water look unclear, the chemical breakdown after examination found that this water was filled with bacteria infested species, clearly violating “clean energy” and showing major signs of concern. Furthermore, what makes many question the fracking industry are that the companies being non-complaint. Although professionals from these companies come to test the water, they do not provide an accurate judgment about the conditions they are living in. From the video above, your heard the women even say that the companies come but essentially lie to the homeowners faces. Moreover, as opposed to looking at the lives these companies are affecting, they seem to direct their attention more towards the economic upside of the potential customers they can reach if they put all their staff towards buying or signing deals with other properties to frack on.

A recent scientific study titled, “The Environmental Costs and Benefits of Fracking,” looked more in depth into this video as well as the general process of fracking. The article stated that, “Primary threats to water resources include surface spills, wastewater disposal, and drinking-water contamination through poor well integrity. An increase in volatile organic compounds and air toxics locally are potential health threats, but the switch from coal to natural gas for electricity generation will reduce sulfur, nitrogen, mercury and particulate air pollution.” As the article continues, it focuses on more hazards, saying that over 36% of the underground water in the United States, which could potentially be used for important aspects of life such as drinking and agriculture, can be ruined if fracking continues for another 5 years.

Focusing on the United States may be something too hard to imagine, so let’s go to scale with a local area in Philadelphia. According to the Council of the City of Philadelphia, there have been major problems with the contamination due to fracking, leading to Department of Environmental Protection and the Delaware River Basin Commission to ensure the health and safety of the regions drinking water [7]. Comparing the amount of illnesses in a more localized area, which from Philadelphia was recorded to be over 300 people, on a large scale can be affecting millions of people. Another article, titled “The Health Implications of Fracking” explains some of the reasons why the United States issues have spread nationwide. Specifically, failure of structural integrity of cements and casing, surface spills, leakage from above-ground storage, as well as the structural integrity of heavy transport vehicles are viable causes for the problems occurring. However, there should be no major blame on the leaking and the surface spills, as regardless of the health implications from the contamination coming up from the ground, fracking is causing this pollution of the water which eventually leads to these issues. This means that in theory, by eliminating fracking, the United States water pollution and eventually health issues should decrease.

One of the most shocking studies that you see below is comparing Estrogen and Androgen in contents of soil and water samples for regions where fracking has occurred versus regions that have not. As you can see from the image below, the amount of combined estimated marginal means of estrogenic, antiestrogenic, and antiandrogenic activities are much higher at the ground water level versus the surface level. Furthermore, based on this data, it is a reasonable consumption that the ground water could have been affected solely by fracking, creating these massive fluctuations of these chemicals. And because of these imbalances of these chemicals, the water can have discolorations and lead to future illnesses and hospitalities of people worldwide.

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Now, looking at one study is not sufficient, as people for fracking might say this is a correlation causation trap, as these graphs can represented above could be media outlets misrepresent correlations. [12] However, many sources agree that fracking is a major health concern. Because of this, lets look at some other studies and focus on their similarities. A journal article, titled, “Human and Ecological Risk Assessment,” focused on potential health impacts of oil and gas drilling. This peer reviewed piece examined the chemicals used during drilling and the hydro-fracking process, and determined that 632 chemicals (a list unavailable due to trade secrecy exemptions) were identified during these processes. Furthermore, even more shocking was that 75% of those 632 chemicals have shown signs to harm skin, eyes, the respiratory and gastrointestinal systems. On top of those staggering statistics was that 40–50% of those chemicals could also affect the following: “brain/nervous system, immune and cardiovascular systems, and the kidneys; 37% could affect the endocrine system; and 25% could cause cancer and mutations.” And if these numbers are extreme, examine this graph below, which was conducted by biological diversity, one of the top research institutions and belongs to a refutable company of Taylor & Francis Group. This graph also took more than 300 samples of hydro-fracking chemicals, showing the overall effects these chemicals have.

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As you can clearly see, more than one study shows that there are possible health risks involving hydro-fracking. And although the statistics may not be the same numbers in terms of percentage risk for a particular body part or organ, they do show a general trend that drilling and hydro-fracking pose major threats to our health.

Beyond the health risks can be permanent environmental risks, something much more dramatic. As you will see in this BBC video below, one theory suggested that a recent earthquake could have been caused by fracking.

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Now, if this theory is correct, think about the potential devastations of fracking. The United Kingdom has just begun its fracking boom, so for countries such as the United States, there could be almost immediate potential disasters on a larger scale. With every risk comes a reward, but with a risk not only health wise, but environmental destruction wise may be a good reason to shut down fracking.

Now, in terms of future fracking endeavors, there has been some speculation in terms of what agencies are upholding fracking and how successfully are they thus far. Supposedly, the United States Congress urged the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to do a well in depth study on hydraulic fracking and its effects on the ground water. The U.S. Congress outlines on its government website that it wants the EPA to, “assess the potential for hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas to change the quality or quantity of drinking water resources, and identifies factors affecting the frequency or severity of any potential changes. This report can be used by federal, tribal, state, and local officials; industry; and the public to better understand and address any vulnerabilities of drinking water resources to hydraulic fracturing activities” [11]. However, there has been much speculation about this topic, including the EPA’s ability to run an in depth investigation, as plenty of new states and regions, such as Wyoming, have emerged and openly stated there has been a major environmental issue in their state due to fracking [12]. If you would like to watch a video on this topic, click here.

As you watch the video, be in mind that this is an investigation of many, something that isn’t new to the EPA. Tying back to earlier in this discussion, the Gasland documentary has protested and attempts the United States government to run its own 3rd party investigation in an attempt to put this debate to rest, and if there is a problem (which seems like there is), then there should be some immediate solution. Although these smaller population states such as Wyoming and Illinois may need fracking to produce jobs and economic stability, it should not come at the cost of environmental destruction.

One last thing you should be aware of is relative comparisons between fracking and other polluters. Looking at this graph below, if you consider shale gas fracking, it shows that comparing grams of carbon in MJ emitted, shale gas is substantially higher in polluting in the short term. However, in the long term, the amount between coal and shale gas is relatively the same.

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However, lets compare fracking to a few other sources besides coal. Now lets look at fracking in comparison to multiple alternatives.

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                As you can see from the graph below, fracking via natural gas is one of the process that requires a large amount of water. However, there is still signs that coal and other alternatives such as nuclear create more of an issue. But as a whole, it is clear that as opposed to using things like natural gas, nuclear, and coal, we should be using wind and solar.

From this discussion, I hope you conclude and truly understand the controversy about this product. It seems like society is divided between economists versus environmentalists. People for fracking focus on the economic benefits of lower costs and the concept of self-sufficiency from OPEC, something that sounds reasonable from just a pure business point of view. However, when taking into account environmental factors, health, and potential natural disasters including earthquakes, something needs to be taken into greater consideration. There needs to be more of an immediate study by the Environmental Protection Agency or an outside 3rd party source to determine the true effects of this oil and gas production process. The last thing society needs, especially in the United States, is a natural disaster that will further ruin the economically and the environment simultaneously.

Sources:

[1] https://www.asme.org/engineering-topics/articles/fossil-power/fracking-a-look-back

[2] http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-14432401

[3] http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/brookings-now/posts/2015/03/economic-benefits-of-fracking

[4] http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/09/150915135827.htm

[5] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cutGpoD3inc

[6] http://www.annualreviews.org/doi/full/10.1146/annurev-environ-031113-144051

[7]http://documents.foodandwaterwatch.org/doc/Frack_Actions_PhiladelphiaPA.pdf#_ga=1.37629600.1482881610.1442544077

[8]http://search.proquest.com/docview/1513845581?OpenUrlRefId=info:xri/sid:wcdiscovery&accountid=9784

[9] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_E3A-D8mAb4

[10] http://www.napavalley.edu/Library/PublishingImages/fracking-infographic.jpg

[11] http://www2.epa.gov/hfstudy/executive-summary-hydraulic-fracturing-study-draft-assessment-2015

[12] http://www2.epa.gov/sites/production/files/documents/EPA_ReportOnPavillion_Dec-8-2011.pdf

[13]http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/campaigns/fracking/pdfs/Colborn_2011_Natural_Gas_from_a_public_health_perspective.pdf

[14] http://desmogblog.com/fracking-the-future/myth.html

[15] http://www.theenergycollective.com/grantmcdermot/203111/us-shale-gas-european-climate-change-policy-carbon-emissions-natural-gas

[16] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4DtYCl4eK_8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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