What is Fracking?
Fracking is the common use term for “Hydraulic Fracturing”, the process by which a rock is fractured using a highly pressurized liquid in order to open it up and extract oil or gas. Usually, water is the substance used to pressurize and break the rock. This technique is used to re-exploit old wells that dried up. Breaking the rock releases the embedded natural gas that was trapped within the rock. There are some signs that the procedure causes an increase in seismic activity, i.e. earthquakes. The process also uses a wide variety of chemicals that have caused concern for contamination of ground water supplies. The first documented use was in 1947; more widespread use began in about 1950. Today the fracking industry is estimated to have added 725,000 jobs between the time of 2005 and 20012. These numbers have been disputed and the entire industry has been disputed, both positively and negatively.
Fracking has brought numerous benefits to society beyond the gas companies themselves.US consumers’ pockets also have much to gain from fracking. Exploiting domestic energy sources keeps capital circulating within the American economy and also keeps prices down. “Gas bills have dropped $13 billion per year from 2007 to 2013 as a result of increased fracking, which adds up to $200 per ear for gas-consuming households” (Dews). Dews notes that households using gas save 200 dollars a year, which allows people to spend that money elsewhere, thus moving them to a higher indifference curve. In Michigan, we experience savings above the average, “Michigan with $259 per person in benefits” (Dews). As a colder state, Michigan residents tend to use more gas, increasing benefits derived when compared to other states. Fracking has a lot of economic value to offer by putting more money in people’s pockets, allowing them to do more with the money they earn.
Fracking has become a polarizing political issue, although it does not necessarily divide along traditional political lines. Fracking has two primary negative outcomes: potential for pollution of groundwater and the proliferation of fossil fuel use. Research into pollution of groundwater has not been carried out on a wide scale, primarily due to the complicated nature of testing wells. The most oft cited feature of fracking pollution is methane turning up in well-water. Hundreds of YouTube videos have surfaced showing citizens lighting water coming out of their faucet on fire. This consequence is likely a result of methane (i.e. natural gas) seeping into groundwater sources. This can occur due to the volatile nature of fracking; however, such effects have been shown to occur in areas where fracking is not present, suggesting it can occasionally occur naturally. Earthquakes associated with fracking is a controversial topic. Man-made earthquakes can occur for a variety of reasons, most notably waste water removal. However, the concern has become very real due to an increase in earthquakes over the past decade. Geological composition of the earth where fracking occurs has a large effect on whether pollution of groundwater or earthquakes are likely to occur. Government regulation could go a long way to prevent negative effects, but fracking regulations in the U.S. are famously divisive.
Regulations and protections by the EPA surrounding hydraulic fracturing are meant to aid in prevention of stress on surface and groundwater caused by actions of the oil and gas extraction industry. Heavy withdrawal, contamination of water sources, and impacts from discharges are of concern. (Natural, 2016) These forms of legislation include the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), Clean Water Act (CWA), Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA), Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), and the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). Potentially problematic exemptions and limitations involved with these standards include the lack of requirement for Underground Injection Control Permits except instances where diesel fuel is involved, the absence of hazardous waste regulation for oil and gas exploration and production wastes, no liability and reporting provisions for injections of fluids, and no requirement of operations to report releases of listed chemicals to Toxics Release Inventory. (Regulations, 2016) Due to these exemptions at a federal level, states are in control of regulation when it comes to hydraulic fracturing. Vermont and New York have completely banned the practice, and as of 2015, 31 states have considered 187 related bills. Environmental groups worry that state level policies are not as strong as the potential for an all encompassing federal activity with the removal of exemptions and permitting agencies such as the EPA more regulatory authority. (Davis, 2012)
Fracking is bound to be a battleground topic in coming years. With this in mind, it is important to check inherent biases when disusing such a controversial and little understood topic. Fracking could have numerous benefits for the U.S. economy as it promotes energy independence and reduces cost. Additionally, natural gas burns much cleaner than the widely used coal, although it still has all negatives associated with any fossil fuel. The negative environmental impacts associated with fracking are undeniable, but may be overstated in the media. The best option moving forward is likely a compromise between unfettered exploitation of natural resources and no exploitation at all. Regulation on a federal level could serve as a baseline to create better protections nationwide. However, a potential problem could be whether states that currently ban fracking should continue to exercise that right.
Natural Gas Extraction – Hydraulic Fracturing. (2016, August 16). Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/hydraulicfracturing
Regulations and Exemptions. (2016). Retrieved from https://www.watershedcouncil.org/hydraulic-fracturing—regulations-and-exemptions.html
Davis, C., & Hoffer, K. (2012, September). Federalizing Energy? Agenda Change and the Politics of Fracking [Scholarly project]. In Colorado State University. Retrieved from https://wpsa.research.pdx.edu/meet/2012/davisandhoffer.pdf
Dews, Fred. “The economic benefits of fracking.” Brookings https://www.brookings.edu/blog/brookings-now/2015/03/23/the-economic-benefits-of-fracking/. Accessed 23 Mar. 2015