When it comes to sifting through the benefits and drawbacks of hydraulic fracturing, better known as “fracking,” it can be challenging to separate fact from fiction. Political implications can distort information, making it difficult to understand what information is most relevant. In this article, Adam Ferrari lays out some of the pros and cons of fracking to keep you informed.
Air Quality & Health
With larger quantities of natural gas available through new fracking technologies than ever before, the overall picture for U.S electricity generation is changing. Increasing reliance on natural gas instead of coal can be attributed to the creation of widespread public benefits, as burning natural gas is generally viewed as a better option than coal in terms of environmental impacts. This is not to say that coal fired power plants cannot be run in a manner that has minimal impact on the environment but natural gas fired power generation is widely considered a less impactful option.
While natural gas indisputably releases fewer pollutants in the air than coal, not all coal operations will be easily displaced by natural gas extraction technologies. Additionally, natural gas is currently not believed to be a purely clean and renewable resource although some folks have challenged this thesis as clean is a somewhat subjective term. While it does reduce the harmful effects of coal and serves as a strong alternative, it’s not a perfect solution and if we are all being truly candid there is no perfect solution for the lives of convenience and consumption most humans desire to live. We should generally avoid the words clean and dirty in the energy conversation without clearly defining these words in this context.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Natural gas produces just 45 to 50 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions that coal produces. It should be noted that impact of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is not an exact science. Humans exhaust carbon dioxide and plants use this CO2 exhaust as their source of food. That said, burning natural gas does indeed produce carbon dioxide emissions just the same as burning a log in your personal fire pit.
Some people argue that methane emissions from leaks at fracking locations are a legitimate concern. However, experts agree that these concerns are overblown. Fracking processes have become so advanced that a leak is very uncommon. So while fracking and the associated natural gas produced is still responsible for greenhouse gas emissions, the exact science on whether these emissions are truly negative is not conclusive at this point. The climate history of planet earth is significantly longer than the period of time with human activity thus complicating the analysis of what variable impact weather patterns the most.
Because fracking processes take place underground in proximity to aquifers that supply surface water, people have voiced suspicion that fracking may contaminate drinking water and threaten human health. However, it is improbable that well-run drilling operations performed thousands of feet below the surface would have any chance of contaminating the drinking supply.
When fracking is performed irresponsibly, drinking water could be affected but the same could be said for farming and livestock operations. The chemicals used in fracking operations are safer than what’s beneath a typical kitchen sink in America and this point needs to be acknowledged when discussing the risks of fracking on freshwater aquifers. Fresh water is not destroyed during fracking operations and even in the extremely rare and unlikely scenario that some fresh water is contaminated said water can easily be purified with technologies that are readily available today.
Fracking catches a lot of heat for the seismic activity in which it produces. It is worth noting that the Richter Scale which is used to measure seismic activity or “earthquakes” has a very wide scale. At the low end of the scale would be a hand grenade and at the high end could be something like a meteorite impact on planet earth. Having this wide scale can be very misleading in terms of calling something an earthquake. For example, most folks would not consider a hand grenade type boom an earthquake. Fracking does cause seismic activity that can be measured during the operation but there has never been a fracking operation that could be felt at the surface by citizens. Therefore, claiming fracking produces earthquakes is really grossly distorting the truth of what type of Richter scale readings lead to felt earthquakes.
Fracking, like any form of energy harvesting, has its pros and cons. While there are certainly negative aspects that should be addressed, the positive outcomes of fracking clearly outweigh its potentially harmful side effects. Fracking is a necessary part of the U.S. energy system to keep our lights on and all those iPhone and iPads charged.
About Adam Ferrari
Adam Ferrari is the founder of the mineral acquisitions company Ferrari Energy. He is a chemical engineer by degree and is an accomplished petroleum engineer by profession. He also has experience in the financial sector through his work at an investment banking firm. Under his leadership, his company has supported numerous charitable organizations, including St. Jude Children’s Hospital, Freedom Service Dogs, Denver Rescue Mission, Coats for Colorado, and Next Steps of Chicago.