Imagine a new type of technology that will decrease our unemployment rate, create many years’ worth of natural gas and crude oil in the United States, and reduce domestic imports of crude oil and natural gas, which would then improve national security. There actually is a technology that does such things. It’s called hydraulic fracturing, but it isn’t necessarily new. Hydraulic fracturing has been around since the 1940’s but has really started to boom in the mid-2000’s. it is the process of releasing natural gas from compact rocks, mostly from shale. The process involves injecting millions of gallons of a mixture of water and many chemicals into an underground rock formation in order to open factures, which release trapped gas or crude oil through a pipe to the surface.
Now imagine walking out on your front porch experiencing excruciating pains in your lungs and head, expecting to see your once beautiful green and luscious front yard, but you actually see a field filled with sand and wells everywhere you look; along with that, there is a horrid gassy smell. This is what many Americans will begin to experience if hydraulic fracturing keeps expanding in the United States. Hydraulic fracturing is believed to have had many negative effects on the environment, such as contamination of groundwater, seismic events, and on human health. Although hydraulic fracturing is good for our economy, the disadvantages far outweigh the advantages.
Many people may believe that the employment aspect of hydraulic fracturing is a major reason to keep it around so that we can boost the American economy. According to the article “The Rush to Drill for Natural Gas,” from 2000 to 2008, the number of wells in the state of New York went from 6,845 to 13,687, and it is predicted that an additional 80,000 wells could be drilled within the next decade (Finkel 2). With all these fracturing sites being built, employees need to be hired to do jobs like drive trucks to transport materials, mix the fluid, and supervise the fracturing sites. Even though the statistics do show a huge demand of jobs, gas companies and community officials fail to take into consideration what local community members think about the increasing population because of the new work.
The article, “Oil Rigs Bring Camps of Men to the Prairie”, in the New York Times explains that once man camps—temporary dormitory type housing for the male work force—brought in 3,700 men into the quiet little town of Tioga, North Dakota, local community members got a little hostile. Robert Harms, a local resident, expressed, “The industry needs to recognize that they’re guests here. They’re operating in people’s front yards and backyards and they damn well better act that way” (Sulzberger). Harms is not the only person angry about the cluttering of his hometown. In order to reduce the frustration of the people who have been living in these areas for a long time, local community officials should take into account what the community members think about hydraulic fracturing before going overboard on it.
Furthermore, human-induced seismic activities, also known as miniature earthquakes, are believed to be one effect of hydraulic fracturing. Many researchers believe that this unusual activity has to do with the large amount of fluid injected into the ground during the hydraulic fracturing process. Although researchers are not 100% positive that hydraulic fracturing causes earthquakes, there have been some events in Oklahoma that makes them very confident that hydraulic fracturing does indeed cause seismic events.
John Daly explains in his article “U.S. Government Confirms Link between Earthquakes and Hydraulic Fracturing” that before hydraulic fracturing came to the state of Oklahoma, there were typically around 50 earthquakes in the state during a year. Two years after hydraulic fracturing started to boom, 1,047 earthquakes were reported during a period of one year. Some people, many pro-fracturing, say that it is just a coincidence that the earthquakes came when fracturing did, but the statistics found in Oklahoma makes it extremely hard to believe that it is just a coincidence.
One very talked about benefit of hydraulic fracturing is the topic of national security. Keith Hall explains in the article, “Hydraulic Fracturing: What are the 3 Big Benefits?” that countries that supply a majority of crude oil are in less of a risk for relying on imported oil. He goes on to emphasize that “this country has potential natural gas reserves sufficient to supply the country for 110 years and a third of that supply is found in shale formations.” With the drastic spread of hydraulic fracturing in the United States I do agree that it would definitely be less risky to rely on imported oil, but if the process is contaminating our water so that our land is being ruined and people’s health are being affected, I do believe that the United States is better off by importing gas.
Furthermore, the article “The Truth About Fracking” explains that during the process of hydraulic fracturing, each drill takes about two to four million gallons of freshwater and injects it into the well along with 15,000 to 16,000 gallons of chemicals. Each well can be drilled around 18 times, which accounts for about 72 million gallons of freshwater used at each well, limiting local community members with access to good freshwater. Along with the millions of gallons of water and chemicals being injected into the well, the workers at the hydraulic fracturing sites have to deal with flowback water—the water and chemicals that do not evaporate during the process and then come back out of the well. About 75% of the water mixture that is injected into the well comes back up and is considered flowback water (Mooney 3-4).
The main conflict with flowback water is where to store it. Flowback water is extremely toxic and can often have radioactive materials within it. Because of the toxicity, flowback water should not soak into the ground because it may affect groundwater which may then get into fresh water. It also should not leak into streams and rivers because it then could kill animals that live in water and animals that drink out of that water. The documentary Gasland by Josh Fox gives many example of what contaminated water does to animals. One woman found dead rabbits, squirrels, owls, and fish that had died right after hydraulic fracturing moved across the road from her house. Another family who lived on a farm reported that their horses and cattle were beginning to lose their hair and began to vomit, which affected their output of beef.
A recent experiment by a group of researchers at Wageningen University offers further evidence that natural gas, ethane, and methane do affect how crops grow. Their article, “Continuum Removed Band Depth Analysis for Detecting the Effects of Natural Gas, Methane, and Ethane on Maize Reflectance,” explains that the experiment consisted of thirty-two pots that included the same plant in each; each pot had the same type of soil and the temperature and lighting was the same. Each pot was thirty-five centimeters away from each other in a randomized block formation. On January 2nd, eight seeds were planted in each pot, for the next six days the plants were fertilized the same until each plant had grown two leaves.
From there they added natural gas to the soil in six pots, methane in six pots, ethane in six pots, and the last six pots were fertilized the same way they were for the past six days. From there on, the plants were watered twice a week at the same time for the next 43 days. In the end, they concluded that the plants that were growing in natural gas were 7% shorter than the ones in the control group and the plants that were grown in methane and ethane were 5% and 17% shorter. Although hydraulic fracturing mostly consists of natural gas, methane and ethane are a huge by product of the process natural gas consists of 14-20% of methane and ethane. In brief there is definitely a drastic change in growth from the regular fertilizer in plants, and if hydraulic fracturing companies do not control flowback water like they should, it could cost Americans millions of dollars in bad crops.
Along with the proof that hydraulic fracturing does affect the growing of plants comes the concern about how hydraulic fracturing affects human health. Truthfully, no one knows if hydraulic fracturing contaminates drinking water. The article “A Tale of Two Technologies: Hydraulic Fracturing and Geologic Carbon Sequestration” explains that the mixture of fluid injected into the wells are unknown to anyone who is not working in the gas industry. The article claims, “The Energy Policy Act of 2005 officially exempted hydraulic fracturing from regulation under the UIC program. The environmental risks of shale gas production are managed through rules established by state oil and gas agencies.”
By exempting hydraulic fracturing from the Energy Policy Act means that gas companies do not have to show anyone what they are using during their process. Most gas companies say that hydraulic fracturing is extremely safe; if it’s so safe, why can’t they tell us what chemicals they are using? Josh Fox’s documentary Gasland, proves that hydraulic fracturing has to affect people’s health; everywhere he went was the same story: once the wells moved into their area they became very sick. Some people’s faucets could even catch fire if they put a match to it because of the gas that was coming through their water pipes. Now, if that doesn’t prove that hydraulic fracturing causes health problems, I don’t know what does.
With all of the research I have done, it is clear that hydraulic fracturing does indeed have many disadvantages. If the United States keeps letting gas companies fracture the way that they are doing now, the United States will be disastrous. All the money that the country is saving from reducing imported crude oil and natural gas will have to be used to restore the land and items destroyed from human-induced seismic activities.
Also, all the high number of employees that are working at fracturing sites will soon have to begin job searching again, or quite possibly have to file for disability or something similar because they will become sick from the chemicals they are working with. Clearly there needs to be a change to keep America safe, but because gas companies are exempt from telling the public what they are using in their process, no one can find a way to cure these illnesses or prevent more from coming. As of now, all we can do is keep researching hydraulic fracturing to find out ways we can prevent human-induced seismic events and contamination of groundwater.
Dammel, Joseph A., et al. “A Tale of Two Technologies: Hydraulic Fracturing and Geologic Carbon Sequestration.” Environmental Science & Technology 45.12 (2011): 5075-076. Business Search Premier. 14 April 2012
Daly, John. “U.S. Government Confirms Link Between Earthquakes and Hydraulic Fracturing.” Foreign Policy Journal. WordPress, 10 Nov. 2011. Web. 16 April. 2012. <http://foreignpolicyjournal.com/2011/11/10/u-s-government-confirms-link-between-earthquakes-and-hydraulic-fracturing/>
Finkel, Madelon L. “The Rush to Drill for Natural Gas: A Public Health Cautionary Tale.” American Journal of Public Health 101.5 (2011): 784-89. Academic Search Premier. Web. 15 April 2011.
Gasland. Dir. Josh Fox. HBO Documentary Films, 2010. DVD
Hall, Keith B. “Hydraulic Fracturing: What are the 3 Big Benefits?” Oil & Gas Law Brief. Stone Pigman Walther Wittmann, 01 April 2011. Web. 16 April 2012. <http://www.oilgaslawbrief.com/hydraulic-fracturing/hydraulic-fracturing-what-are-the-3-big-benefits/>.
Mooney, Chris. “The Truth About Fracking.” Scientific American 305.5 (2011): 80-85. Academic Search Premier. Web. 15 April 2012.
Noomen, Marleen F., et al. “Continuum Removed Band Depth Analysis for Detecting the Effects of Natural Gas, Methane, and Ethane on Maize Reflectance.” Remote Sensing of Environment 105.3 (2006): 262-70. ScienceDirect. Web. 15 April 2012.
Sulzberger, A. G. “Oil Rigs Bring Camps of Men to the Prairie.” The New York Times. 26 Nov. 2011. Web. 14 April 2012. <http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/26/us/north-dakota-oil-boom-creates-camps-of-men.html?pagewanted=all>