Risks of banning fracking vs. risks of letting to continue
One of the most important problems facing governments all over the world is resource depletion, a subject that is directly related to climate changes and global warming. Soil, fossil fuels, and clean water are examples of the resources that according to the scientific community, in a couple of years are going to be scarce, provoking conflicts and political tension between countries. As a response to this problem, possible solutions have been proposed, and there’s one that has created a lot of controversy about the whole topic of scarce sources: fracking. Essentially, fracking is a type of drilling that uses sand, water and a combination of a lot of chemical substances, in order to free up natural gas and oil (resources that also worth a lot of money) from dense rock formations. Nevertheless, why a new drilling technique that could guarantee economic growth and energy independency to a lot of countries, has created so much resistance? The answer is simple: it has a negative environmental impact. Most people object to fracking see it as a technique that poses negative consequences to the whole environment, including also humans and animals. Recently, the use of fracking has positioned itself as both environmental and political topic, as it creates a debate that is focused on whether it should be banned or on the contrary, it should be allowed to continue.
First of all, the debate has been focused on the potential damages that this technique could cause to the environment, taking into account that in the process, it is necessary to use huge amounts of water, one of the most important resources on earth. From the side of people against the fracking, it is believed and scientifically proved that the quality of the water returned from the process, ends up with high-levels of contamination. On this topic, the Encyclopedia Britannica refers to the environmental concerns related to fracking, and affirms that drilling and fracking consume large quantities of fresh water, and they return that water in a highly polluted state, also claiming that the groundwater is highly contaminated by both fracking and fluid methane. In fact, there is a documentary called Gasland that depicts the effects of gas exploration activities utilizing hydraulic fracturing, contaminating a lot of residential water wells. On the other hand, the risk of banning fracking just for the usage of water and its potential contamination, is somehow exaggerated for a lot of people. On this case, it is true that there are legitimate risks that fracking can cause on the quality of the water, specially the groundwater-one. Nevertheless, on the article Hydraulic Fracturing and Real Estate Issues we can find that the shallow-fresh water aquifers and the deep-shale rock formations being fracked are thousands of feet apart, so the contamination of fresh water contamination is really low. As an example, this article also cites the testimony of Elizabeth Ames Jones, who is the chair of the Texas RailRoad Commission, who said: “whether it’s fracturing fluid, oil, or natural gas, to affect the usable quality of water, those substances would have to migrate upward through thousands of feet of rock. That is physically impossible.”
Second of all, the debate is very polemic as fracking technique is also related to possible negative consequences for human health. The anti-fracking movement affirms that not only has negative effects on the quality of the returned water from the process, but also leads to air pollution, and even more important, this hydraulic fracturing can cause earthquakes. On this topic, Bob Weinhold, author of “Natural resources: energy development linked with earthquakes”, confirms that earthquakes have been linked with this kind of technique in a number of locations. In fact, he supports this thesis claiming that a study conducted in Texas found that a grid of temporary seismographs installed near injection wells detected numerous low-magnitude earthquakes. While this may be true, and it may be seen as a risk of allowing fracking to continue, the truth is that there’s also the risk of believing that fracking is the only responsible for earthquakes. The pro-fracking movement declares that fracking may be related to some little seismic movements but never responsible for earthquakes. For instance, Randal Bell, on the same article cited before “Hydraulic Fracturing and Real Estate Issues” affirms that the Davies, Foulger, Bindley and Style study concludes that fracking is not a significant mechanism for inducing felt earthquakes. He also notes that other human activities can trigger much larger earthquakes, for example building dams, filling reservoirs, mining and using geothermal energy.
Finally, as we analyze the risk of banning fracking against the risk of letting it continue, we need to have in consideration the economical perspective of the situation. The risk of banning fracking, seen as a productive industry that creates jobs and generates profit, would have some negative impact on economy. Furthermore, if energy prices are low (due to the use of fracking), people would have more money to spend on other areas or necessities, and at the same time it creates more jobs in other productive sectors, re-activating the economy and with the opportunity to redistribute this profit to healthcare and education. Energy Monitor Worldwide, on its article called “The 3.5 trillion fracking economy is about to get a lot bigger” declares that hydraulic fracturing generated $3.5 trillion in new wealth between 2012 and 2014 in spite of falling oil prices, and also created 4.6 million new jobs due to an energy boom and the resulting low gas prices. On the other hand, if we talk about the risks of letting fracking continue, specifically on this topic, it wouldn’t be a bad idea, because if there’s something that anti-fracking movement recognizes, is the profit that hydraulic fracturing generates, and how many jobs creates in the places where it has been used recently. Nevertheless, many would argue that there’s a line that needs to be drawn, where economic profit and growth is well seen, as long as it doesn’t affect people’s health. Another risk that is related to letting this technique continue, is the progressive abandonment of other alternative energy sources, such as solar energy, wind energy, geothermal energy, etc. Taking into account that shale gas produced by the hydraulic fracturing is one of the less sustainable sources of electricity, promoting better, cleaner and more sustainable alternative sources of energy is a no-brainer for the anti-fracking campaign.
Debating about the risks of letting fracking continue or banning it as a practice is a difficult challenge, not only there’s a lot of disinformation on both sides, but also there are people who often exaggerate the research that supports their view while at the same time, ignore evidence that cuts against it. This is the main problem of the topic, there are contrary reports, there’s an agenda to follow on each side, and most importantly, it causes division between the ones who are against and the one who are comfortable with this process. As said before, when studying this topic it is important to have in mind that fracking is not just an environmental issue but also a political one, creating a more difficult atmosphere to debate on. Why it is important to highlight that is a political issue? Because in that way is even more difficult to find a common platform for the parties to debate. As long as this debate is seen as a win/lose scenario or situation, there won’t be a consensus surrounding its practice, polarizing even more.
List of references:
The $3.5 trillion fracking economy is about to get A lot bigger. (2016, Dec 19). Energy Monitor Worldwide Retrieved from https://ezproxy.uninorte.edu.co:5666/docview/1850071856?accountid=41515Bell, Randall, PhD., M.A.I., & Bell, M. P. (2017). Hydraulic fracturing and real estate issues. The Appraisal Journal, 85(1), 9-17. Retrieved from https://ezproxy.uninorte.edu.co:5666/docview/1900298062?accountid=41515
Hall, J. C., Shultz, C., & Stephenson, E. F. (2018). The political economy of local fracking bans. Journal of Economics and Finance, 42(2), 397-408. doi:http://ezproxy.uninorte.edu.co:4345/10.1007/s12197-017-9420-z
Fracking. (2018). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from https://ezproxy.uninorte.edu.co:3547/levels/collegiate/article/fracking/570989