Fracking: But What Can We Do?

Fracking. This word is provoking controversial discussions about human health, environmental degradation, and energy needs. This story, however, has implications in far more areas than just the environmental sector.
Ever since the Industrial Revolution production has relied on fossil fuels [coal and petroleum]. Without these sources of energy, the entire way of life in developed countries would be fundamentally different. Modern medicine, transportation, and even the food we eat are all the products of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels have allowed society the potential to live much longer with far less morbidity than any time in human history. This novel source of energy enabled the industrial and then technological age that characterizes today. There was an idea that oil was an unlimited resource, so the price for it was low. But once there was a decrease in easy to extract available oil in the Middle East, the price of oil rose. Because the entire way of life for societies of developed countries rely on oil, the stakes of being cut off are tremendously high. This has lead to violence and war and costs the United States trillions of dollars each year. Oh, and of course that being said, the need to fossil fuels have grown with time, and there is scientific proof that humans’ continued use of fossil fuels have had serious effects on CO2 levels in the atmosphere causing world wide climate change which could lead to the contamination of our water and mass ecological destruction.

This sounds like a pretty dire situation. That is where fracking can be seen as the saving grace within the energy sector. Hydraulic fracturing is a process in which natural gas is extracted from shale deposits. Natural gas is seen by some to be the next main source of energy, and even some environmentalists support fracking because natural gas is seen to be the transitional energy source between crude oil and a more sustainable, cleaner energy source. Natural gas produces less emissions than oil and can be extracted in large quantities domestically hopefully inciting the U.S. to pull out of costly wars for oil.  Here is a video that can explain fracking a little better. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6qKadxyMOYY   Fracking seems like such a good option…

However, there are some serious environmental and public health concerns that go along with fracking, as well as speculated corruption in the oil and gas industry. Fracking has been linked to freshwater contamination in the drilling areas. There have been many complaints filed by residents living in these areas, but oil and gas companies remain adamant that there is no scientific proof of water contamination or adverse health effects due to the hydraulic fracturing process.

Some of the complaints have been: Freshwater pollution; massive fish, bird, and other wildlife die off; human health effects such as headaches, nausea, loss of smell, taste, and brain lesions. These claims remain, according to the oil and gas companies, unfounded, speculative, and not empirically connected to hydraulic fracturing. These narratives have been brought to the attention of the general public through the documentary film Gasland by Josh Fox watch it for free here http://www.filmsforaction.org/watch/gasland_2010/

Beyond the public health concerns, there is also a concern in the amount of resources the fracking process requires. The amount of water used is staggering, up to 1-5 million gallons each day. More information about that found here: http://www.texastribune.org/texas-environmental-news/water-supply/fracking-disclosure-texas-includes-water-volumes/  Not only does fracking require large amounts of freshwater, but the water that is used is, arguably  unfit for human use. With EPA’s recent estimates that the majority of freshwater sources in the United States are polluted beyond the point of human use http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/03/26/us-usa-rivers-idUSBRE92P0XY20130326, this makes fracking seem like an unsustainable option for energy.

Furthermore, many of the official studies that support the safety of fracking have been put out from those who have financial ties to the oil and gas companies a process that is now being called more colloquially as “Frackademia”. Democracy Now! investigates the Obama administration’s newest Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz http://www.democracynow.org/2013/3/26/energy_nominee_ernest_moniz_criticized_for  Here is another perspective on how the oil and gas companies were able to buy their research http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jan/09/fracking-big-gas-university-research Regardless of whether you believe that the research is sound, there is something to be said about the obvious conflicts of interest found within the research that is being circulated. Who’s research can we trust? What will this mean for the future of the U.S.’s energy needs and environmental situation?

Why do we as a country need to choose save money and potentially end violence in the Middle East and fracking that has potentially devastating outcomes for our environmental and human health within the U.S.? Are those really are only two options? Please weigh in.

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11 Responses to “Fracking: But What Can We Do?”

  1. Firstly, this was a really well written blog post. Fracking is obviously a very controversial topic. There are several positives and negatives to the topic. But, as Leah mentions, is this really the only option? Why do we have to select something that has so many negative consequences? Fracking of course does provide an easy solution to some of our impending problems of fossil fuels, but there is no reason to just settle for ‘easy’. We should tap into other areas such as hydropower, solar power, and nuclear power. Nuclear power is also contested in terms of its environmental stability, but the bigger issue is harnessing it safely. However, once this is discovered, its potential is incredible. Fracking is not the answer – let’s move toward new alternatives that don’t have such consequences.

  2. Fracking is clearly destructive. Is it a better solution than fossil fuels and relying on a hostil middle east? Perhaps. But it doesn’t seem like the best solution. Wind power, solar power, and hydraulic power seem like the safest and cleanest ways of producing energy, though at this point they are expensive and often do not produce enough to sustain our current way of life.

    So it seems to me that at this point, until a better solution is developed, we as a society need to take responsibility for our extreme consumption levels. We need to embrase public transportation and cut down our dependence on foreign oil and potential harmful solutions like fracking until a better solution comes around. It seems like these two options are the easy ones. The ones that require us as a society to do absolutely nothing and worry about the repercussions later.

  3. As with every energy source, there are definitely pros and cons to hydrofracking. The threat to freshwater hits especially close to home in Michigan, where we try our best to shelter our great lakes from the effects of human-caused degradation and climate change. However, Michigan sits on top of the Antrim shale which has the potential to go a long way in reducing our dependence on foreign oil. This is the current debate that is heating up across the state. The question is: Is it worth it to take this risk now without knowing for sure the long term effects of this process?

    To answer Leah’s question about research, I think that all research has the potential to be an important contribution to finding these answers, as long as it’s conducted ethically and thoughtfully. Journalists have a responsibility to track how research is funded and present the public with links that we should know about. That being said, even though research may be funded from a source that seems in conflict to the supposedly objective nature of science, doesn’t mean that the findings achieved are not valuable. Perhaps they should be more closely retested and checked by many sources, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re invaluable. I agree that its important to be skeptical, but we shouldn’t let our politics stand in the way of productivity toward an answer or solution. Besides, isn’t it ethically important that these types of companies that have the potential to harm so many people, should be conducting research relevant to the impact of their business?

  4. I agree with Yash that the potential of nuclear power is incredible, but disagree that it’s a matter of properly harnessing it. We have that capability now. The mistakes at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima were grave, but only Chernobyl resulted in a loss of human life, and was caused by pretty staggering stupidity. A great deal of current public perception results from some either unethical or uneducated (I don’t know if I’d rather be evil or incompetent, so I’ll split the difference on giving benefit of the doubt) reporting at the time and after. A great example is some of the modern Fukushima reporting, Compare this
    reporting

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/i-am-one-of-the-fukushima-fifty-one-of-the-men-who-risked-their-lives-to-prevent-a-catastrophe-shares-his-story-8517394.html

    to the data in the wikipedia article, which states they never received above an 80 mSv dose http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fukushima_50

    to this chart showing what that actually means in context. http://xkcd.com/radiation/

    There’s a great monument to this sort of reporting not far from my house this http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shoreham_Nuclear_Power_Plant building. It cost 6 billion to build and was never turned on out of public fear following three mile island.

    All that being said, I tend to be extremely skeptical on these sorts of issues. It tends to be a lot easier to scare people with invisible death rays or an intense consonant heavy word like fracking than show what the issue really is. I would also note that of course only fracking related people fund fracking studies, who else would? They also have to be extradinarily careful to maintain independence, as no-one is willing to risk their career on fudging data. The scientists, it should be noted, get paid from the grant. That means that once paid they have no reason to falsify their data.

  5. The amount of water used in fracking is staggering, is there away that we could clean it after it has been used to frack? I would obviously like to see more of our resources going into developing alternative fuel because we are going to run out soon, no matter how much hidrofracking we employ. In terms of research I agree with “arlefferts.” Thinking to an academic setting scientists are not to be bought through grants. They apply to them and get the funding. once they get the funding their funder should have no influence over their scientific process. I do think that money to fund the research should come from more than just the fracking comps. I would think that public health orgs would fund their own research as well.

  6. I liked this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6qKadxyMOYY little video clip you posted. I have never understood fracking better, the visual aids help.

  7. That was a great blog post! And I agree with Liz, the video was very helpful.
    Energy issues are always very complex, not just because of the technology involved or economical and environmental consequences, but specially because they reflect directly on the way we live our lives. We can search and find alternative energy sources, but if there is no change on our consumption as a whole we will always face similar problems. It will take a revolution to change things that have been settled for the past few centuries.
    As for fracking, I would say it is a important technology that should be used under controlled circumstances, since the outcomes are still not known. If a large energy crisis arises it is important to known that we have other ways of providing power to industries, hospitals and our houses. But, while we can, we should do our best to go to the root of the problem and fix our bad habits on regards to the use of energy.

  8. In response to other earlier posts, there needs to be an extensive amount of research conducted for all the latest renewable energy forms that have the potential to be destructive to human and environmental health, including fracking. I agree with Maura’s response that all research conducted needs to be done in a moral and ethical way, especially since the public’s opinion is dependent on the ‘facts’ presented to them. When data conflicts, it’s the role of journalists to reveal these discrepancies and to dig to find those altering their data. Data inconsistencies create an aura of mistrust among environmentalists & the public and energy corporations & the public. These situations tend to develop an attitude of avoidance among the public, disengaging them and fostering indifference towards energy issues. Thus, there’s also a danger of a lack of awareness of the public health implications. And as Andreia mentioned, targeting consumption is really the only way to create sustainable change for the future.

  9. It is very difficult to support fracking because of the way it affects us in terms of public health and environmental issues. However, I suppose it is better than drilling for oil and supporting for the conflict in the Middle East. It is like trying to choice the lesser of two evils.

    Fracking is not our only option though and it is extremely important to realize that. There are so many other ways to create energy aside from fracking and oil. Why not wind power? Solar power? Nuclear power? I would rather invest time and money in these alternative energy resources than support an energy resource that will negatively affect our environment.

    Maybe moving towards fracking and choosing the lesser of two evils will be a step in the right direction. It will at least be a step away from oil consumption. The world needs to step further away from oil though and get past fracking as well. Use it as a bridge to more Earth friendly alternative energy resources.

  10. Although I agree with the reservations voiced about pursuing fracking, I think that it may, and should, be harnessed in the short term to create more jobs and cleaner fuel and energy for domestic consumption. Coming from an economically depressed rural region sitting upon significant natural gas reserves (NE Ohio), I think the exploration and investment in domestic sources of energy is imperative to both local and national economic and security interests.

    In the short term, we should repurpose existing resources to support the sustainable extraction of domestic shale gas. Shale gas is preferable because it is in abundant supply and US infrastructure is presently prepared to produce, transport and convert energy produced from shale gas. This needs to be done in a sustainable manner and should work through existing state regulatory framework.

    Given this, I think DOI oil and gas inspectors should assist state regulatory programs with licensing and to oversee drilling and fracturing and begin a comprehensive baseline ground and service water monitoring program in effected shale areas.

    The significant domestic supply of natural gas provides the opportunity to wean off conventional fossil fuels by incentivizing the production and deployment of compressed natural gas dispensers for transportation fuels throughout the shalegas areas. Use existing programs in USDOE, SBA to assist local governments, school systems and fleet fuel users to convert their combustion engine vehicles to run on compressed natural gas. In addition, increased extraction of natural gas can accelerate the conversion of coal-fire plants in the Ohio and Tenesse River Valley to burn compressed natural gas in compliance with these regulations.

    Furthermore, in order to promote sustainability in this field, it is important that the administration incentivize systems that allow scrubbing and refining of shale gas, thus making it available for local use. Inspectors should verify that casing and cement placing is being done correctly so as to preserve groundwater purity. A cracking plant should be created to harvest the marketable chemical byproducts of fracking. Additionally, to ease concerns about the environmental effects of injection wells for fracking wastewater, establish transparent parameters for wastewater treatment of hydraulic fracking fluid.

    Jobs would be created in manufacturing the dispensers, building the scrubbing and cracking facilities, converting the vehicle fleets and converting the coal-fired plants to process CNG. Use well-head priced gas to attract new industrial users and business investment to the shale gas regions.

    As many other students noted, ultimately, it is imperative that we place more emphasis on research and investment in renewable resources, such as solar and wind, to be produced and consumed domestically. Shale gas should be seen as a bridge energy source in order to transition the U.S. from foreign fuel to a diverse fuel economy focused on truly renewable resources.

  11. It’s really sad and disheartening and depressing to hear and see how contaminated the earth is becoming. Today I was thinking what Ann Arbor would look like if everyone picked up and threw away two pieces of trash everyday. Our city would be so much more beautiful, and I think everyone would feel good about helping out our planet. Even though this is a small step compared to the contamination caused by fracking, it’s something tangible that we could all do. If everyone listened to Bob Marley and paid attention to his words, I think that would help too. One love, one heart ❤

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