Abstract This essay addresses the issue of hydraulic fracturing, its effects on the economy and the environment, and why it should not be allowed. It first provides some basic background information regarding the history and process behind fracking. It notes the economic growth caused by fracking including but not limited to creation of thousands of new jobs and a significant decrease in the prices of oil and gasoline in America. It then explains the environmental damage caused by fracking including but not limited to radioactive and/or flammable water, natural gas leaks, and the release of large amounts of methane into the atmosphere.
Some of the basic regulations put on fracking are listed, but they are followed by some reasons why these regulations are not effective in making fracking truly safe.
Hydraulic Fracturing: Economic Pros and Environmental Cons Since the beginning of the hydraulic fracturing boom in 2004, controversy and debate have ensued surrounding the effects it has on the environment and economy.
While “fracking,” as it is commonly called, creates tens of thousands of jobs in the boom towns where it takes place and lowers energy prices nationwide, the methods used often leave behind a myriad of different forms of environmental damage and health risks, especially for those living near frack sites. This might be anything from toxic chemicals being left behind in well water and nearby streams and rivers to methane being blown into the atmosphere. I think fracking should be banned because I think the environmental costs and personal health risks vastly outweigh the economic benefits.
Background Various forms of hydraulic fracturing are nothing new, but 2004 brought a huge increase in activity. In fact, methods similar to modern fracking have been safely in use since the 1940s (Hydraulic fracturing can be done responsibly, 2013, para. 1), but the methods employed have changed drastically since 2004 with the use of a certain mixture of water and chemicals to extract oil and natural gas for use as fuel. Fracking has always been exempt from federal water protections like the Clean Water Act which leaves nearly no limits on the substances they can shoot down into wells (Hydraulic fracturing should be banned, 2013, para. 6). The oil and gas companies doing the fracking insist that the well water is safe to drink, but they will not drink it when offered a glass. One such instance was captured on footage and published in 2010 by Josh Fox in his documentary Gasland. This increase in activity and change in methods has caused a fracking boom in many small towns across the nation in states like North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and Texas.
Opposing View So far, the fracking boom has successfully created thousands of new jobs in boom towns in states such as Pennsylvania and North Dakota. Within the first nine years of shale development, Pennsylvania alone created approximately 23,000 new oil and gas jobs. Using a multiplier effect of two which accounts for jobs created in fields closely related to drilling, approximately 46,000 jobs were created from 2004 to 2013 (Weinstein, 2014, paras. 5 and 7). In 2004, North Dakota’s oil and gas sector had 2,400 jobs; it now has about 24,000, which is ten times as many (Weinstein, 2014, para. 9). North Dakota’s unemployment rate is now the lowest in the country.”[S]hale development is associated with a 1.3% annual increase in employment and a 2.7% annual increase in earnings” (Weinstein, 2014, para. 15). So not only has unemployment dropped, but wages have also risen.
In addition to creating jobs, fracking has caused a huge increase in the domestic production of oil and gas which has in turn lowered prices. “Economist Mark Perry calls [North Dakota and Texas] ‘Saudi Dakota’and “Saudi Texas’ because their production of oil and gas and their byproducts now easily and regularly exceed that of Saudi Arabia” (Adelmann, 2014, p. 12).
This has caused the price of a barrel of oil to drop below $50 which is one of the major reasons that caused the price of regular gasoline in the U.S. to drop from $3.68 per gallon in June of 2014 to $2.37 per gallon in December of the same year (Bailey, 2015, para. 1). “[Oil analyst Anatole] Kaletsky… suggests that if the price remains at or below $50 per barrel for a year, it would indicate that we have returned to a competitive market and therefore that we’ll see lower prices for many years to come” (Bailey, 2015, para. 12). Even if the fracking boom ends, it may have changed the oil and natural gas market back to a competitive one which might last for much longer than the fracking boom itself.
These seem like big numbers, and some of them are, but in reality, they mostly affect small boom towns and do not have much of an effect on the country as a whole. While the individual economies of a certain number of small towns are affected, the entire U.S. economy sees almost no change other than the price of gas. “It should come as no surprise that the true economic impact of shale drilling is smaller than many initial estimates first suggested” (Weinstein, 2014, para. 21). In essence, the predicted economic effects have not come to be, at least not to the extent that was predicted. Even so, “[n]atural gas extraction creates jobs and is good for the country’s energy security, so when fracking is done responsibly, everyone wins” (Hydraulic fracturing can be done responsibly, 2013, para. 2). It is good for the economy, but not quite as great as anticipated.
Environmental Costs Though fracking may be very good for the economies of the towns where it takes place, it also poses serious environmental risks to not only the areas near frack sites but also the rest of the country and quite possibly the world. Wastewater from fracking is highly radioactive and filled with toxic chemicals (Hydraulic fracturing should be banned, 2013, para. 3). This wastewater fills the well being fracked and also finds its way into the groundwater. Once it is in the groundwater, it travels into nearby streams which lead to rivers and oceans. Some of it evaporates as well and enters the atmosphere. Over time, this contaminated water ends up everywhere in the hydrosphere.
Along with radioactivity and toxic chemicals which come directly from the fracking process, natural gas continues to be released even after the frackers stop collecting it. Gasland Part II shows footage of a stream with natural gas bubbling out of it all over the place (Fox, 2014). This happens because once the fracking process breaks up the shale in the earth to release natural gas for collection, the rest of the natural gas continues to travel out through the ground and escape at the earth’s surface. This means the property near frack sites often literally bubbles with natural gas.
The fracking process also releases methane directly up and into the atmosphere. Fracking is used to acquire natural gas to use as fuel because it is a clean source of energy, “[h]owever, fracking itself may release enough of the greenhouse gas methane to counterbalance the lower carbon dioxide emissions from burning the natural gas” (Hydraulic fracturing should be banned, 2013, para. 7). So what is the point in going through all this work for a clean energy source if it releases so much methane into the atmosphere that the environmental benefits cancel out the costs? These environmental effects lead me to believe that fracking is more dangerous than it is helpful.
Other Negative Effects Aside from the environment as a whole, fracking also presents numerous health risks for individuals, especially those living near frack sites. The chemicals used for fracking contaminate the water in the wells that are fracked. This well water is what comes out of residents’ faucets.
This means that all the chemicals used in fracking, along with excess natural gas of what frackers collect, end up in people’s tap water and drinking water. These toxic chemicals and gas can cause a myriad of health problems, such as cancer, for those who drink it (Hydraulic fracturing should be banned, 2013, para. 5). Gasland even has footage of people lighting their tap water on fire as it comes out of their very sinks and others whose tap water is completely black (Fox, 2010). Oil and gas companies still insist that the water is safe to drink, but that is hard to believe when your tap water is black or on fire.
Fracking boom towns also receive huge amount of traffic from trucks carrying tremendous louds of dangerous chemicals (Hydraulic fracturing should be banned, 2013, para.
4). The weight of the trucks plus the amount of driving they do cause great damage to the roads on which they drive. Additionally, property values near fracked wells plummet because the damage done to the water all around fracking sites is essentially irreversible. After all, no one wants to buy a house with flammable or black tap water in front of a stream bubbling with natural gas. In my opinion, these health risks combined with the environmental damage along with the economic downfall for the housing market completely cancel out all of the economic benefits.
Conclusion I think fracking should not be allowed because the damage it does for the environment and health of America is far bigger than the good it does for small economies. Most people affected negatively by fracking propose that the administration put laws and regulations into place to make fracking safe, but this modern form of fracking cannot be done safely (Hydraulic fracturing should be banned, 2013, para. 11) Loopholes that exempt fracking from the Clean Water Act and other environmental regulations should be closed so that no more damage can be done from fracking. “The federal government has leased out public land for oil and gas production in 32 states, and the rules across them are simply too inconsistent” (Obama administration strikes the right balance on fracking, 2015, para. 5). Each state has a different set of policies, and most of them do not successfully make fracking safe.
The Interior Department requires that flowback water be collected in storage tanks above ground instead of the lined pits they currently use (Obama administration strikes the right balance on fracking, 2015, para. 4). This regulation makes one aspect slightly safer, but that water still has to go somewhere, and the amount of wastewater created is far too great to not matter. This water is permanently contaminated and will enter the hydrosphere at some point or another. The drillers are also required to list the chemicals used in a frack job within 30 days (Obama administration strikes the right balance on fracking, 2015, para. 4), but this is sort of a moot point if the toxic chemicals have already been released into wells, streams, drinking water, and ultimately the entire hydrosphere.
Fracking may create jobs in boom towns and lower gas prices, but it also releases toxic chemicals into wells, streams, and the whole of the hydrosphere, it causes the excess natural gas to unstoppably bubble out of the earth, and it causes very large amounts of methane to be released into the atmosphere. In my opinion, these health risks and environmental damage is not worth the economic growth. Fracking should be banned so that no more damage can be done.