Fracking is the name given to the process used to extract shale gas from rock deep below the earth. Essentially, the rock is hit with a pressurized mix of water, sand and chemicals. As the rock fractures, oil and gas deposits buried deep in the shale’s formations are released.
Fracking has attracted a lot of controversy since its inception because the environmental impact is not yet fully understood. The “anti-fracking movement “have been very vocal about their concerns. Most are not actually linked to the process of fracking itself but to its side effects. Not surprisingly, the main critics of fracking tend to be environmentalists. They have put forward a number of arguments. For example, they argue that the vibrations from fracking may weaken poorly maintained reservoirs, wells and rusted pipes allowing potentially carcinogenic chemicals to poison the water table. They also suggest that the ongoing use of high pressure jets to the rock can lead to earth tremors. There have also been concerns that methane leakage may lead to an explosion, to name but a few. Equally unsurprisingly, the fracking industry insists these risks are being exaggerated. Both sides can, and do, produce studies that seem to contradict each other. This is no easy study!
Regardless of where you stand on fracking, one thing remains irrefutable. Over the past few years fracking has caused a dramatic turnaround in the US energy industry. Domestic oil and gas production is at an all-time high. According to an IHS study “America’s New Energy Future: The Unconventional Oil and Gas Revolution and the Economy – Volume 3: A Manufacturing Renaissance (2013), “A revolution is under way in the production of unconventional oil and natural gas that is transforming America’s energy future and strengthening its overall economy.” Furthermore, economists at IHS Inc. also suggest that fracking “will likely raise average U.S. household income by $2,700 per year and create 1.2 million new jobs by 2020.” These sentiments have been echoed by the Whitehouse Council of Economic advisors who state “Every barrel of oil or cubic foot of gas that we produce at home instead of importing abroad means more jobs, faster growth, and a lower trade deficit. Natural gas is cleaner than America’s other two primary sources of energy, coal and oil, and, while more expensive than coal, is far cheaper than oil.” These high profile talking points make the case that fracking offers widespread economic benefits for the US, its economy and the living standards of Americans across the board. With such compelling evidence, it looks like the pro-fracking contingent is holding its own against the critics.
Wherever the real truth lies, for now, this hot debate is likely to continue on for some time. Until there is enough evidence to tip the scale and give a definitive answer, we can only hope we all continue to ask the right questions!