by Anthony Roll
(@anarchyroll on Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr)
Fracking is a term that has made its way from the underground to the mainstream in recent years. Do you know what fracking is? Fracking is a short hand term for hydraulic fracturing. What is hydraulic fracturing? In short it is a method used to extract gas from large rocks that are deep underground.
The most common type of rock that is fractured in the United States is shale. The process of fracking involves sending highly pressurized water underground mixed with sand and chemicals to break open the shale and release the gas. The process has been around since the 1940s but has become popular in the last decade as a way to reduce America’s dependency on energy producing imports. Fracking has lead to a domestic energy boom that is expected to continue for years to come. The boomerang to accompany that energy boom revolves around the negative environment consequences of the fracking process.
The term fracking has become mainstream in recent years because of the controversy surrounding it. What is the controversy? The controversy revolves around negative environmental consequences that occur before, during, and after the fracking process. From the pollution caused by the transportation of the water and chemicals to the blast sites. To potential as well as documented leaks of the chemicals into local water supplies, to tremors and earthquakes caused by wastewater disposal, the debate of fracking is another chapter in the battle between commerce and environmental health.
Both sides of the fracking debate have strong evidence to support their stance. Those against fracking frequently point to the documentary film Gasland which showed repeated groundwater contamination caused by fracking that famously included residents near blast sights being able to light their water on fire. Proponents of fracking point the economic benefits to the country at large as well as state and local communities. The natural gas America gets from fracking accounts for 25 percent of our gas supply, meaning we don’t have to import it from overseas. In addition, Pennsylvania alone has seen around 72,000 jobs created from the fracking industry.
Economic benefits are great, especially in a country still recovering from The Great Recession. However we as a society can’t cut off our nose despite our face in the name of economic growth. The negative effect of fracking is poisoned fresh water supplies. Although the Earth is 3/4 water, only 2.5% of the water on the planet is drinkable freshwater. Humans cannot survive without freshwater. Fracking poisons freshwater. Fracking is therefore a threat to the human condition. If fracking was not a threat, then why is it banned in five countries in Europe?
Fracking need not be banned forever. A moratorium until the technologies evolve to a point where water contamination has no chance of happening is all that is required. Or how about until the processes no longer cause earthquakes? Is it too much to ask for technology to evolve more in the age of the iPhone and Oculus Rift? Do we really believe oil and gas companies don’t have the money for research and development to evolve the fracking process? Ask those questions to a family dependent on the income earned from working at fracking wells, and the answers might be different. That is the double edged sword of the debate.
Fracking is helping and hurting people at the same time. Families and communities have had their freshwater supplies forever poisoned while at the same time the workers who did the accidental poisoning have jobs for the first time in half a decade. Whose lives are worth more? Fracking forces the issue of asking the tough questions. What happens if freshwater continues to be poisoned as a result of fracking? What if earthquakes continue to be caused as a result of fracking? What if both of those things happen while lots of people and communities continue making lots of money? These are all tough questions that must be asked. When the future of freshwater and energy is at stake, one thing that is not debatable, is that fracking is certainly a preeminent issue of our time.