As recently as a decade ago, many scientists believed the U.S. was running out of oil. Peak oil was a major concern and many questioned whether the U.S. way of life was at risk. Hydraulic fracturing (fracking), developed more than 60 years ago, has eliminated fears of running out of oil. Although fracking was impractical and very expensive when first developed, it has become more feasible in the last few years due to technological advancements and rising oil prices over the last decade, leading to an 800% increase in shale gas production over the last decade. Fracking has led to an economic resurgence in many places across the country. And while oil and gas has to be removed correctly, using gas collected by fracking reduces greenhouse gases more than burning coal.
But that is not enough for some environmental groups who see fracking as a dangerous detour on a path to 100% renewables. The Green Party has complained that fracking squanders water. While fracking does use water, the amount of water used to drill all 3,000 Marcellus wells in Pennsylvania (and obviously not all are being drilled at the same time) equals the amount of water used by residents of Pittsburg in one year. Additionally, fracking is using the water once consumed by shuttered industries such as steel manufacturing which have been offshored or curtailed by the EPA. In fact of the 9.5 billion gallons of water used daily in Pennsylvania, natural gas consumes 1.9 million gallons or two thousandths of one percent.
Others claim natural gas is dirty. Actually natural gas is much cleaner to burn than oil or gasoline. It emits half as much carbon dioxide, less than one third the sulfur oxides and one percent as much sulfur oxide as coal. While the fracking process does release some excess methane, a good portion can be prevented by sealing condensers, pipelines and wellheads.
Fracking will not cause water wells to blow-up as in did in the movie Gasland. In the movie, the Colorado home’s well was actually drilled directly into a naturally occurring pocket of methane. The drilling occurred before any fracking in the area. Hollywood is not in the business of fact checking. As long as companies use stronger cement and processing casings to ensure an impermeable seal, the methane cannot move into anyone’s home.
Finally, some claim that fracking will lead to radioactive drinking water. While shale has a radioactive isotope, tests of treated water and brine in New York and Pennsylvania found no elevated radiation levels. The treatment of water used in fracking makes the presence of significant amounts of radiation impossible.
While fracking requires following strict protocols, the natural gas supplied has been a boon for the United States. Fracking is cleaner than oil and coal, increases energy supplies and enhances economic activity. Some of the purported claims of the anti-fracking crowd are scare tactics created by those who have an economic incentive to see fracking fail.