Fracking. Sounds scary, right? Between the fracking ban recently proposed in Congress to presidential candidates pledging to end this so-called environmental menace, you’re probably hearing a lot about this unique method of harvesting energy.
But what is fracking? Does it really threaten the planet? Why do we use it? In this post, our energy and environmental policy experts set the record straight.
Definition: Fracking is a process of extracting oil and natural gas, particularly in deep shale formations. Fracking fluid (99% water and sand) is injected into underground wellbores at high pressure, fracturing the shale rock and allowing previously trapped oil and gas to flow freely upward to be harveste. Fracking has revolutionized the United States’ energy supply and unlocked massive new reserves of energy to power our economy, health, and quality of life.
1. Fracking does NOT threaten groundwater.
Although hydraulic fracturing is a critical component of the U.S. economy, Senator Bernie Sanders claims, “Fracking is a danger to our water supply. It’s a danger to the air we breathe, it has resulted in more earthquakes, and it’s highly explosive.”
We’re not sure where Sen. Sanders thinks he gets drinking water, but if his water comes from underground (versus a lake or river, as in some cities), then it’s coming from an aquifer. While aquifers are on average 500 feet underground, fracking occurs in shale deposits 6,000 to 10,000 feet below the surface. In order to reach precious natural gas and oil so deep beneath our feet, a wellbore must be drilled from the surface to the shale deposits. These wellbores are encased in steel and cement to ensure fracking fluid does not cause contamination. This process is no different than a conventional oil and gas well, but the public has been scared into believing fracking poses many more hazards.
2. Fracking does NOT harm air quality.
The State of Texas has arguably the most comprehensive air monitoring systems to monitor harmful chemicals at and around fracking sites. Studies show minimal effect on air quality, well within safe air standards. Multiple studies have concluded the health risks of fracking are extremely low — and that the broader benefits of fracking, such as less pollution and cheaper, more reliable electricity, actually improve public health in the long run.
3. Fracking does NOT exacerbate climate change.
Fracking is the new target of the anti-climate change movement because it emits a small amount of methane. However, both the amount and the effect of methane emissions is incredibly small. New research found that “U.S. methane emissions are an insignificant contributor to global greenhouse gas concentrations, and their effect on future temperatures will be immeasurably small.”
Additionally, even eliminating all greenhouse gas emissions would have essentially no effect. The Green New Deal, if implemented by the resolution’s goal of 2030, would cut temperatures by less than two-tenths of a degree in 2100.
The best science indicates any future warming will continue to remain mild and manageable, and the better solution is to continue improving resiliency.
4. Fracking does NOT cause life-threatening seismic activity.
Seismic activity is very rarely the result of fracking and usually not strong enough to be felt. Contrary to popular belief, the U.S. Geological Survey found that a recent uptick in earthquakes in the Central U.S. is the result of wastewater disposal, not fracking. Wastewater disposal practices are evolving and improving over time as entrepreneurs and scientists develop innovative new solutions and more companies turn to water recycling over disposal.
5. Fracking IS critical to our quality of life and fighting poverty around the world.
Fracking has unlocked unprecedented energy reserves, propelling America to its newfound status as one of the world’s leading energy producer and exporter.
Though most people who don’t work in the energy industry don’t recognize, the availability of affordable, reliable energy has a massive impact on our everyday lives.
For decades, OPEC’s stranglehold on global oil prices left the United States, and most other countries, at the mercy of other nations for the energy we depend on. The oil embargoes of the 1970s caused mass gas shortages, rationing, and skyrocketing prices — a phenomenon nearly unheard of today. Even after Iran launched missiles at our allies’ air bases and shot down a Ukranian passenger plane, causing significant global unrest, gas prices barely rose a few cents.
Fortunately, America has become “energy dominant” — meaning we are massively self-reliant and produce enough energy to cover most of our oil needs, as well as export to our trading partners. Whereas the U.S. produced around 6.8 million barrels of petroleum per day in 2008, the country produced over 17 million barrels per day in 2019!
Fracking contributed to 59% of total U.S. crude oil production and two thirds of natural gas production in the latest data available. Those proposing fracking bans evidently want to obliterate an entire sector of the country’s energy production based off unsupported and misleading allegations.
Banning fracking would decimate our energy supply and cause electricity prices to skyrocket — meaning limited or expensive electricity to power our hospitals, banks, law enforcement agencies, businesses, farms, factories, grocery stores, and homes. Over a 5 year period, this measure would cost the United States nearly 15 million jobs. During a time when unemployment rates have reached historically low levels, should we be taking steps backwards?
Since evidence overwhelmingly suggests fracking is a safe and effective tool to harvest the energy that powers our economy — not to mention has the power to eliminate poverty around the world — policymakers should focus instead on solutions that will actually benefit their constituents.
Simply said, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.