Hydraulic Fracking

Introduction

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The utilization of hydraulic fracking process to excerpt gaseous and oil substances from the earth’s surface was discovered in the 1940s. However, only recently has the term “fracturing” or “fracking” has become an energy buzzword, especially when making allusion to the shale gas boom that has been experienced in America, and the controversy that surrounds it. Since its invention, hydraulic fracturing has turned out to be a regular practice in several parts of the world, more so the United States (Montgomery and Smith 26). The previously unrecoverable reserves can now be tapped, thanks to this great innovation. Indeed, hydraulic fracking technologies have allowed the fabrication of gas and oil from underground rock formations that could not be developed before this innovation. Consequently, there has been an increase in the unconventional resources such as the shale oil and shale gas.

Fracking Process: Geology and Hydrology

Geology refers to the fracture or separation of the geologic construction either through a joint, or a line of weakness that causes the division of the rock material into dual or more segments. The main reason for rock fracturing is pressure, which is initiated by the increased mass of the topical rock echelons and the cementation that has formed the rock construction. When gaseous substances, water, and other liquefied constituents pass through the veins or spaces caused by geological mechanisms, hydrology is said to have taken place. In other words, hydrology refers to the research that entails the movement and distribution of liquefied substances on the earth’s underground and surface. As such, hydraulic fracking occurs when the rocks are fractured through the application of a stimulation technique that involves the injection of pressurized fluids.

In simplified terms, fracking begins with drilling a well either vertically or at a certain angle from the earth’s surface that is between two and three kilometers deep. Indeed, to prevent the well from dripping into the underground water, steel or cement is used to encase it. Upon reaching the rock layer where natural oil or gases exists, the well is curved by about 90 degrees and is then drilled horizontally to about one mile from the perpendicularly drilled well. After the drilling arrangement has been accomplished, fracking water that contains a wide range of substances is pumped down the well under extremely high pressure with the intentions of fracturing rocks, making fissures and cracks that allow gases and oil to flow.

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In other words, hydraulic fracture is created through the pumping of slick water into the drilled well. The pressure or rate at which the water flows into the well is increased to exceed that of the targeted rock, also known as the fracture gradient. When the surrounding rock cracks, the slick water goes through the rocks leading to further cracking. Proppant, which refers to particles used to ensure that the rock fractures do not close once the slick water stops being injected into the well, are introduced. They include substances such as ceramics and sand grains as well as other elements that can maintain the rock fracture. The cracks or fractures that are formed have holes that are penetrable and allow the flow of salt water, the hydraulic fracturing fluids, oil, and gaseous substances into the well. The figure below offers a clear description of Hydraulic fracking (Herod).

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Hydraulic fracking study design in November, 2011. Pros and Cons

The use of hydraulic fracking to extract oil and gas has received heated debates in the recent past. The bone of contention has been whether there are better ways of tapping the natural resources and if the environmental harm that this process causes outweighs the benefits derived from the natural precious commodities. Proponents of hydraulic fracturing hold that the extraction of fossil fuels through this technique is safe and could lead to positive impacts to the citizens and the economy at large. They say that there are enough natural fuels that is “stuck” in the substratum shale formations and that tapping the natural resources can not only make the United States less dependent on foreign gases and oils, but it could also make U.S to be an economically and politically stable nation. On the other hand, critics argue that the risks involved in the extraction process outweigh the benefits. Not only is the health of the members of the American society is at risk, but also that of other people across the world, due to the potential peril that this process has on the environment.

Political perspective

When there is a conflict between the development of policies that surround economic development and the preservation of the environment, it is beyond reasonable doubt that economic development policies will win all the time. In the United States, for example, the majority of people are concerned about keeping the lights on at a lower price than the effect that this lowering of energy resources will have on their atmosphere. In fact, almost every individual is about natural oil and gas as well as the future of energy in the land.

In the midst of the “unconventional uprising” in gas and oil substances that has become apparent in the United States, low energy is not the only social and political issue, but also the issue of creation of jobs and government revenue. Currently, the hydraulic fracking industry supports more than 1.5 million jobs, which is a considerable large number bearing in mind the newness of the technology. The number of employment opportunities is expected to rise to three million in the next four years. Back in 2012, hydraulic fracturing added a total of 62 billion dollars to both the state and federal administration revenues, which is a figure projected to rise to 113 billion dollars by 2020 (U.S. Energy Information Administration 239). Indeed, engaging in this new technology has not only helped to motivate a manufacturing revitalization of America with regard to the global economy but has greatly affected the international geopolitics. In addition, though the natural gas innovation is not going to offer a permanent solution on America’s dependence on imported gas and oil, it will slash the dependence to a certain degree. In fact, it is argued that this rich innovation will help America to pocket almost 450 billion dollars that it has been spending when importing gas and oil substances.

Environmental Perspective

Various studies have shown that hydraulic fracturing developments threaten to jeopardize the atmosphere and the quality of air. In fact, this is attributable to the increased exhausts from the engines and the emissions derived from the diesel-powered pumps that will be used to power various tools and equipment. Moreover, the atmosphere will be contaminated by gases that are flared or vented directly into the air during the operational activities. The other thing that might increase the level of air pollution is the unintentional emissions that come from faulty gadgets and equipment or temporary storages. Other studies have shown that shale gas and shale oil technological advancements threaten to destroy the quality of underground water as well as surface water (Nicot and Scanlon 3581). Indeed, this is due to the spills of chemical substances and other fluids during the processes of hydraulic fracking. Of note is the fact that it can even increase the intensity and frequency of earthquakes.  Moreover, this innovation has a direct impact on the intensity and direction of national struggles to develop and deploy a low-emission of carbon technologies.

Health/ Biological perspective

Scientists and researchers have of late been more concerned about the potential adverse impact of hydraulic fracking to the health and wellbeing of society at large (Herod). To begin with, increasing the number of wells or drill sites could lead to higher risks to the general public. Not only does it expose them to destructive substances, either in water or the atmosphere, but it also increases their risks of accidents. Indeed, chemicals from drill sites have been shown to have immediate health impacts, and in most cases, the health impacts are long-term. Various studies have also given evidence that suggests that hydraulic fracking contaminates ground water through the vertical boreholes, especially in areas that have poor regulatory procedures, which could have a detrimental impact to the welfare of the populace.

Analysis

As it is evident from the above discussion, hydraulic fracking should not be allowed in the United States as well as other parts of the world due to the potential danger it poses to the environment, the populace, and the aquatic lives. Although most studies about the impact of this process are still underway, the drilling and fracking activities have been encouraged to an extent of bringing a gas revolution in America. Today, there are thousands of drilling sites in almost all provinces, despite several studies indicating the engagement as a potential peril to the society and the environment. Rather than giving the go-ahead to hydraulic activities, it is essential for state and federal government to gauge its impact from both sides.

Any nation with the intentions of exploring the heights of clean water and clean atmosphere should say no to hydraulic fracking. Certainly, America and other nations that have endorsed this activity should bring it to an end if they dream of ever having a world with clean water and air that is free from pollutants. As a matter of fact, hydraulic fracturing makes use of plenty of water and sand as well as chemical substances to excerpt oil and gas from shale, which is found deep underneath the ground. The fracturing of shale through water pressure has an important impact to the environment. Not only is the productivity of the land impacted, but the fracturing does increase the frequency and intensity of earthquakes.

As opposed to the widespread idea that hydraulic fracking is beneficial to the economy, it actually harms it, which is another reason as to why it should be stopped. In places where drill sites have been established, fracking has done more harm than good. Studies have shown that every single drill site produces more than 4000 additional heavy trucks during the transportation of the mine products (U.S. Energy Information Administration 238). In addition, the damage that the heavy trucks have on the infrastructure requires almost 4000 million dollars for maintenance. Moreover, the value of real estates in areas where drilling is taking place has gone down drastically owning to the fact that buyers are not able to secure their bank mortgages.

Hydraulic fracturing is not only harmful to the economy, but it also has detrimental impacts to the health and wellness of the people living near the drilling sites. In fact, people who live within a radius of a mile from the drill wells have the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases and other forms of illnesses such as dizziness, fatigue, and impaired lungs as well as temporal paralysis. Human health is impacted by the slick fluids that contain toxic chemicals, which are injected into or near drinking water reservoirs. As earlier indicated, the chemicals cause respiratory problems, reproductive impacts, and neurological and have a potential to damage the central nervous system. Recent studies have also indicated a positive correlation amid the toxic chemicals and cancers (Ingraffea and Engelder 1).

Finally, the fact that drilling companies are not required by law to disclose the types of chemical products that they utilize, or even the criteria or formula used when preparing or making chemical concoctions further increases the risk to animals and human beings. Local residents and people responding to an emergency cannot be well prepared to give first aid in case an emergency occurs. As well, researchers cannot study or gauge the magnitude of threat of hydraulic fracking processes.

Conclusion

Fracking refers to the injection of highly pressurized water and chemicals as well as other substances into the shale deposits to excerpt oil and gas that is stuck inside the rocks. Proponents of this process hold that it should be encouraged because it leads to economic growth and hinders the nation to be oil dependent. Critics argue that the detrimental impacts outweigh the beneficial aspects of this activity to both the environment and the general society. Therefore, hydraulic fracking should not be allowed in the United States and other parts of the world without necessary legal framework to control the effects it poses to the environment, the populace, and the aquatic lives.

 

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