Over the past few decades, the United States has become heavily reliant on using nonrenewable resources. The excessive uses of these resources, such as coal, are extremely harmful to the environment and can be considered responsible for global climate change and the destruction of a once healthy atmosphere. Some companies have claimed to find a “clean” source of energy called natural gas, found deep within the Earth’s crust. Commercials created by these companies state that natural gas is easy retrieve, cheap and clean burning. However, these commercials fail to explain that one of the processes of retrieving natural gas, or hydraulic fracturing, is extremely harmful to the environment.
Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, is the process of injecting millions of gallons of water into the ground to crack shale rock around a gas well. When the shale rocks around the wells are cracked, it allows natural gas, specifically methane, to flow into the wells. To fracture the shale rock, the water injected into the ground has to be at a very high pressure and is loaded with sand and about 40,000 gallons of 600 different dangerous chemicals. Once the natural gas has flown into the underground well, it can be extracted and stored in tanks above ground to later be used as an energy source.
Fracking for a source of energy is occurring all over the United States. Several masses of shale rock are all over the county, such as the Mancos shale in Utah and Colorado; the New Albany shale in Illinois and Kentucky; and the largest shale in the country, the Marcellus Shale. The Marcellus Shale stretches over Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia. Large portions of the Marcellus Shale are in New York and Pennsylvania, and the shale rock in these areas have started to be fractured to allow natural gas to flow into freshly drilled wells.
These sites have had an extremely negative effect on the biosphere in these surrounding areas. People living near these fracturing sites have been experiencing several grievances and have been having severe problems with their well water. Many adults have been suffering from terrible headaches, a loss of smell, and have lost their ability to taste foods or drinks. Some children
living near fracturing sites have even developed asthma, and can barely go outside without getting ill or struggling to breathe due to air pollution. Some people living near fracturing sites have been forced to buy bottled water or water by the gallon because their well water has become so contaminated. Water coming out of the sink is often tinted brown or yellow colors, and can even be lit on fire. Farm animals and pets drinking this water have been getting sick and have suffered hair loss.
The harms that are occurring in the biosphere are due to the problems fracking has caused in the lithosphere, hydrosphere, and atmosphere. The lithosphere, or the Earth’s crust, has been significantly impacted by fracking. Once a fracturing job is completed, retainment ponds are dug and the contaminated water is poured into them. Often times, the toxic water in these bases are able to seep into the ground due to a lack of proper lining. Horizontal drilling in the ground to build wells leaves giant holes in the Earth’s surface, which have to be filled once a project is completed.
Very specific instructions are given to workers so that the holes can be filled properly, but often only surface is covered. These giant, unfilled holes create unnatural fractures thousands of feet in the ground, allowing toxic fluids to rise up into the surface into aquifers or even distances up to a mile away from the well. Because of the retainment ponds and the unnatural fractures in the ground, the hydrosphere (or water sources) can become contaminated. These contaminated water sources harm the plants, animals and people that relied on it while it was still clean. Not only does fracking have a negative impact on the lithosphere and hydrosphere, but it also has a negative impact on the atmosphere.
A common natural gas that is extracted from the ground is methane, which is often emitted into the atmosphere from the wells or from piping leaks. Also, high temperatures cause contaminated water to evaporate and disperse into the atmosphere. The chemicals released into the atmosphere hurt the animals and plants that are breathing in all of the toxins, causing illnesses such as asthma or problems such as headaches.
Despite all the issues that fracking inflicts on the environment, companies are quick to say that the use of natural gas is both economically and environmentally friendly. Companies such as ConocoPhillips claim that the use of natural gas will stimulate the US economy and help to meet the energy needs of our growing population. In some ways, these companies are correct. Hydraulic fracturing can help the US economy because it allows the US to rely on its own resources, rather than resources from other countries, such as oil in the Middle East. Also, several workers and truck drivers are needed to carry out fracking projects, creating job opportunities for people who were previously unemployed.
Also, companies state that fracking and horizontal drilling combined create a relatively cheap and productive way of retrieving shale resources. An apparent environmental benefit to fracking is that it “burns cleaner” than other natural resources such as coal. Coal is used for 44% of the United States’ electricity, and it is the main cause of air pollution in the US. When coal is burned, it emits toxic materials into the air.
These toxic materials contribute to global warming, and cause acid rain and smog. The natural gases that are commonly retrieved from fracking and horizontal drilling burn much cleaner than coal, but the process of retrieving natural gas is very environmentally unfriendly. The water contamination and the methane that is emitted into the atmosphere due to fracking make it equally as harmful as coal burning.
Companies have also been claiming that there is an abundance of natural gases available in the masses of shale rock across the country. Although there may be an abundance of this resource, these companies have not been using natural gases sustainably. If the United States continues to use natural gases at the rate that it does now, every recoverable source of natural gas will have been used up within the next 80 years. Some even believe that the amount of natural gas the US has right now is only enough to last for 10 years, because there are only about 237,746 billion cubic feet of “proved reserves”.
Proved reserves are areas that guarantee that natural gases will be retrieved if that area is drilled. The 80 year theory is much more optimistic, stating that there are other sources of natural gases readily available other than just the “proved reserves”. Although natural gas may be another nonrenewable resource that is available, it takes away from the drive that people have to find a renewable resource. Many may think that they can feel comfortable with the amount of energy that they have now, and are not concerned that the nonrenewable resources available at the moment will run out. It is important to search for a renewable resource now, because the nonrenewable resources are not being used sustainably and will eventually run out.
If we continue to expand fracking operations, the conditions in the environment will continue to worsen. Water contamination will most likely spread beyond just where the fracking is occurring, because of the unnatural fracturing in the ground and retainable basins. The conditions of the atmosphere will also continue to worsen because toxins will continue to disperse into the air, and methane will continue to leak from pipes and the wells. Many people who live near fracking sites may be forced to leave their homes on account of high levels of water and air contamination.
Also, the masses of shale that are currently being used could eventually run out of natural gas, so companies will be forced to move onto another shale, creating more health hazards in other areas. As the number of fracking sites that are developed and abandoned increases, the aesthetic value of rural areas will decrease. Rather than views of trees, rivers and countrysides, there will be views of abandoned wells and trucks transporting massive amounts of chemicals.
Hydraulic fracturing is undeniably a Tragedy of the Commons. It is practically impossible for the Environmental Protection Agency to place any kind of regulation on fracking. In 1975, industries managed to prevent the EPA from regulating or testing 70,000 different chemicals, including many of the chemicals that are used for fracking. For large industries, keeping the public’s health in mind is a burden and it minimizes the potential to make massive profits. Industries are able to move onto land near people’s homes and contaminate their air and water without any regulations whatsoever.
In Pennsylvania, unregulated fracking is running rampant. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has done nothing with the evidence of illnesses caused by fracking, leaving the industries able to contaminate clean sources with any chemical they need. Politics are leaning towards supporting the industries rather than the public’s health because they are much more interested in stimulating the economy than they are in protecting public safety.
Hydraulic fracturing is presented as an environmentally friendly way to retrieve energy, but it is has been causing contamination in previously clean air and water. Hydraulic Fracturing is even more dangerous because the EPA can’t place regulations on it, leaving innocent people at the expense of the dangerous chemicals. Overall, the negative effects that fracking has on the environment are extremely significant, and it either needs to be stopped or heavily regulated.