The Perils and Possibilities of Hydraulic Fracturing Institutions

The Perils and Possibilities of Hydraulic Fracturing
Fracking is among the new technologies that has facilitated the extraction of natural gas from the ground. According to Cooley and Donnelly (2012) many view natural gas as a `bridging fuel` that will be central to the realization of low carbon energy for the economy in the United States. Cooley and Donnelly (2012) identify that forecasted demand for natural gas in the coming years will rise exponentially due to the expected reliance on natural gas by the United States, and the production of this gas is estimated to rise by almost thirty percent over the next twenty-five years. Cooley and Donnelly (2012) explain that the productivity of natural gas wells has been improved significantly by hydraulic fracking but these perceived benefits have been accompanied by mounting concerns over the environmental as well as social complications arising from water resources.
Dutzik, Ridlington, and Rumpler (2012) argue that the hydraulic fracturing technology despite its facilitation of the acquisition of fossil fuels from beneath the ground has resulted to many complications, with issues such as water contamination, air pollution and various health and environmental concerns being associated with this technology. As such, this paper will analyze the various risks and possibilities that come with hydraulic fracturing for a better understanding of the subject. The food and water watch (2012) support this view, pointing out that the pollution that has become synonymous with hydraulic fracturing has raised environmental as well as health complications and posed great risks as far as underground water resources are concerned.
Definition of Fracking
Davis and Hoffer (n.d) define fracking as the extraction of natural gas from shale formations beneath the ground. Healy (2012) refers to fracking as a technique utilized by engineers for the stimulation of fluid flow from the rocks beneath the earth`s surface. Dutzik, Ridlington and Rumpler (2012) observe that various parties define fracking in different ways, with some perceiving fracking as the cumulative activities involved in the triggering of a well into production through hydraulic fracturing, the operation of the said well as well as the deliverance of the products of that well such as gas and oil into the market. According to Dutzik, Ridlington and Rumpler (2012), most industries in oil and gas perceive fracking as the action rock fracturing itself to produce gas and oil, and as such do not take responsibility to the environmental as well as health complications that stem from the use of rock fracturing.
Summary of the Fracking Process
Healy (2012) summarizes the hydraulic fracking as involving the pumping of a fluid high in water content into a well to induce rock fracturing because of mounting pressure. This water-rich fluid is laced with proppant which facilitates the fracturing process by opening the fractures (Healy, 2012).After the rocks are fractured, pressure is dropped in the borehole, after which water rich in natural gas raises to the top (Healy, 2012). According to Healy (2012), these boreholes are oriented horizontally to facilitate wider coverage of the gas reservoirs. Dutzik, Ridlington, and Rumpler (2012) summarize the fracking process as a method for freeing trapped gas or air from beneath the earth in the form of rocks. Fracking combines two specific technologies to facilitate the unlocking of these resources according to Dutzik, Ridlington, and Rumpler (2012). The first includes hydraulic fracturing which is the pumping of the mixture of water, sand, and chemicals under high pressure to fracture the underground rocks while the second involves horizontal drilling which facilitates wider fracturing (Dutzik, Ridlington, and Rumpler, 2012).
General features of fracking
Available at: http://www.epa.ie/pubs/reports/research/sss/UniAberdeen_FrackingReport.pdf
Various possibilities have been identified which has resulted to the shying away from fracturing by various countries such as Ireland (Healy, 2012). These include earthquakes, water contamination as a result of mixing with natural gas and other minerals found in chemical compounds, air pollution resulting from the emission of dangerous gases such as carbon dioxide and methane gas as well as the possibilities of leakage of waste materials and fluid from the storage facilities.
Healy (2012) identifies that various environmental repercussions may arise as a result critical geological issues of fracking including the following. The first is the lack of sufficient knowledge and understanding of the fracturing patterns and processes in the underground rocks (`shales`). Secondly, lack of accurate prediction and quantifying of fracture networks in the shale prior to the boring and the lack of accuracy and precision in the determination of shale formation geometry as well as the rocks within which water can be pumped. According to Healy (2012), the pumping of water into rocks below the surface cannot determine the fracture type, which poses a great risk of water pollution and contamination by the fracking process.
According to Healy (2012), the pumping of water into the surface of the earth may result in earthquakes as a result of the alteration of the state of stress of the rocks. Healy (2012) explains that two earthquakes in the United Kingdom have been linked to fracturing, which raises the need for better accuracy and precision of the stress and fault models to facilitate better prediction. Green, Styles, and Baptie (2012) support this by affirming that subsequent studies revealed that the UK earthquakes that occurred in the year 2011 were largely caused by fracturing activities but negate concerns by explaining that the likelihood of this happening again is low. Regardless of this, various scholars still recognize that the risk of other earthquakes cannot be ignored. Healy (2012) also argues that the contamination of the water as a result of mixing with natural gas has prior been reported following various failures in the machinery.
Dutzik, Ridlington, and Rumpler (2012) identify some of the perils that are associated with fracking and discuss them at length. These include:
Air Pollution
Colborn et al., (2011) argue that various gases accruing from the fracking process such as methane may find their way to the atmosphere and combine with various oxides to produce compounds that are very harmful to the human lungs. Colborn et al. (2011) also affirm that the ground-level ozone produced by the mixture of gases also affects the growth of crops negatively.
Drinking Water Contamination
According to Dutzik, Ridlington, and Rumpler (2012), fracking has the potential to pollute water that is beneath the ground as well as above the ground such as rivers and lake. This is especially detrimental to rural area dwellers that are heavily reliant on ground water for their daily activities due to the constraints existent in other water supplies (Dutzik, Ridlington & Rumpler, 2012). According to Dutzik, Ridlington and Rumpler (2012) this pollution of water has occurred through various ways that include spillage of fracking chemicals to both underground as well as service water as experienced in Mexico where majority of drillings have resulting to the contamination of water resources.
Furthermore, this can happen through the failure of proper waste containment, which further deteriorates the water resources especially in countries where drilling and fracking is very well spread (Dutzik, Ridlington & Rumpler, 2012). Dutzik, Ridlington and Rumpler (2012) also identify that water contamination can be as a result of its mixture with methane and carbon dioxide gases which is very possible when wells are improperly constructed. The remediation attempts to remove these wastes from the water are very costly and thus fracking poses an environmental as well as economic risk. Dutzik, Ridlington, and Rumpler (2012) continue to explain that clean up exercises may take very long, which would require the temporal provision of clean water at added costs. Dutzik, Ridlington, and Rumpler (2012) identify various cases where replacement has been very costly such as Colorado where over a quarter million dollars were spent to finance the project.
Health Complications
According to Dutzik, Ridlington, and Rumpler (2012), the pollution arising from fracking is harmful for the health of employees as well as other people, both close or away from the fracking plants. Among the health complications associated with fracking, include cancer, immune-endocrine disorders, as well as mental complications (Dutzik, Ridlington & Rumpler, 2012). According to Dutzik, Ridlington and Rumpler (2012), the levels of chemical substances in the air likely to be harmful and accruing from fracking have been detected previously in previous states. With cases of nearby residents falling sick as such, these risks would most likely be experienced in other areas where fracking is undertaken without prior planning of the management of the harmful chemicals that curtail healthy living. Colborn et al. (2011) argue in support of this by noting that most of the chemical used in fracking and so often undisclosed pose various health benefits to the people. Colborn et al. (2011) also affirm that these chemicals pose various threats to the nervous system and endocrine system. The cardiovascular system and the kidneys are also susceptible to these chemicals, which very well increase the chances for cancer as well as other health defects (Colborn et al., 2011).
Fracking in Some Cases Leads to Injuries and Death for Workers
Dutzik, Ridlington and Rumpler (2012) identify that fracking is a dangerous venture for many employees due to the increased likelihood of accidents and deaths when compared to other workers. Dutzik, Ridlington, and Rumpler (2012) reinforce this argument by identifying that over 600 workers have perished from accidents stemming from fracking activities since 2003-2008 only, which exposes the riskiness of fracking. Dutzik, Ridlington, and Rumpler (2012) also explain that these workers are also at a higher risk of succumbing to lung complications due to the perpetual inhalation of silica particles that are used for facilitation of the fracking process.
The Risk of Deterioration of Natural Resources
Dutzik, Ridlington, and Rumpler (2012) argue that natural resources are a risk as a result of fracking activities due to the conversion of rural and fertile areas into areas of industry. This way, the services that would have been achieved from the natural resources are lost as an opportunity cost of the acquisition of natural gases and oils through the fracking process (Dutzik, Ridlington & Rumpler, 2012). Franco, Martinez, and Feodoroff (2013) add onto this argument by explaining that the last couple of years have been characterized by the acquisition and control of large pieces of natural land and various resources including water, which has attracted increasing concern especially on the use of this fertile land and resources for unconventional uses such as gas drilling. Franco. Martinez and Feodoroff (2012) cite this as a threat especially due to the associated complications of water diversion, depletion, as well as pollution.
Below is an illustration of a piece of land affected by unconventional gas extraction
Available at: http://www.unep.org/pdf/UNEP-GEAS_NOV_2012.pdf
Furthermore, Franco, Martinez, and Feodoroff (2012) accuse fracking of being a false solution to the energy crisis and ultimately a tool for plundering resources to benefit a limited number of individuals. Franco, Martinez and Feodoroff (2013) explain that conventional methods of gas production pale in comparison to hydraulic fracking in terms of frac fluid usage, with the former estimated at 100,000 gallons and the latter approximated at between one to eight million. As such, the risks that are associated with this fluid have been multiplied significantly which raises concerns over the frac fluid such as chemical waste and pollution (Franco, Martinez & Feodoroff, 2012).
The hazardous elements of fracking
Available at: http://www.tni.org/sites/www.tni.org/files/download/fracking_old_story_new_threat_0.pdf
An illustration of the how hydraulic fracturing has expanded over the last three decades
Available at: http://www.unep.org/pdf/UNEP-GEAS_NOV_2012.pdf
Conclusion
Despite the many energy benefits associated with hydraulic fracturing, there is a necessity to improve various elements of fracking especially the risks and dangers associated with it against humans and the environment. The health concerns as well as environmental concerns are among the major factors identified by various scholars against which decisions against fracturing are based upon. The costliness associated with remediation procedures is also too much but is necessary to mitigate some of the effects associated with the environmental, social and health concerns voiced by various scholars and stakeholders alike. The bottom line however is that hydraulic fracturing is very risky as well as harmful, and various controls and modifications in the engineering of the equipment and machinery as well as the fracturing process to mitigate the risks, dangers, and disasters that are very likely to occur with fracturing are necessary to reduce the negative impacts of fracking.
References
Colborn, T., Kwlatkowski, C., Schultz, K., & Bachran, M. (2011). Human and Ecological Risk Assessment: An International Journal. Human and Ecological Risk Assessment, 17, pp. 1039-1056. Retrieved from: http://cce.cornell.edu/EnergyClimateChange/NaturalGasDev/Documents/PDFs/fracking%20chemicals%20from%20a%20public%20health%20perspective.pdf
Cooley, H., & Donnely, K. (2012). Hydraulic Fracturing and Water Resources: Separating the Frack from the Fiction. California, Pacific Institute. Retrieved from http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:http://www.pacinst.org/reports/fracking/full_report.pdf
Davis, C., & Hoffer, K. (n.d). Federalizing Energy? Agenda Change and the Politics of Fracking. Retrieved from http://wpsa.research.pdx.edu/meet/2012/davisandhoffer.pdf
Dutzik, T., Ridlington, E., & Rumpler, J. (2012). The Costs of Fracking – The Price Tag of Dirty Drilling`s Environmental Damage. Environment Ohio Research and Policy Center. Retrieved from http://www.mothersagainstfracking.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/The-Costs-of-Fracking-Report.pdf
Food and Water Watch. (2012). Fracking: The New Global Water Crisis. Food & Water Watch. Retrieved from http://documents.foodandwaterwatch.org/doc/FrackingCrisisUS.pdf
Franco, J., Martinez, A., & Feodoroff, T. (2013). Old Story, New Threat: Fracking and the Global Land Grab. TNI Agrarian Justice Programme. Retrieved from:http://www.tni.org/sites/www.tni.org/files/download/fracking_old_story_new_threat_0.pdf
Green, C., Styles, P., & Baptie, B. (2012). Preese Hall Shale Fracturing – Review & Recommendations for Induced Seismic Mitigation. Retrieved from https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/15745/5075-preese-hall-shale-gas-fracturing-review.pdf
Healy, D. (2012). Hydraulic Fracturing or`Fracking`: A Short Summary of Current Knowledge and Potential Environmental Impacts. University off Aberdeen. Retrieved fromhttp://www.epa.ie/pubs/reports/research/sss/UniAberdeen_FrackingReport.pdf

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