5 things you need to know about fracking
There's a much politicized national public debate raging over hydraulic fracturing — aka "fracking." This is a highly controversial method of extracting natural gas by blasting chemically laced water and sand underground. Vic Agbasi, an instructor in the Environmental Science program at the University of Phoenix Dallas Campus, explains some of the conflicting issues at the center of the debate:
It's cleaner energy.
The natural gas derived from fracking is thought to create less pollution than other forms of energy do, such as the pollution derived from traditional fossil fuels. "When you burn natural gas for cooking and heating," Agbasi says, "it turns straight into carbon dioxide and water, which is clean."
Fracking might contaminate drinking water.
Fracking requires blasting millions of gallons of chemically laced water into the ground. "The issue is that some of the water isn't recovered," Agbasi says. "And it could end up anywhere." Environmentalists claim that in some fracking locations, gas contaminates the drinking water in area homes. The industry needs to treat that water, Agbasi says, to make sure the chemicals are gone before the water is released into the rivers or ground. "But that may not happen, or even if it does, it may not be done properly," he notes.
It might also contribute to global warming.
Anti-fracking advocates are concerned that the method allows too much methane gas — a large portion of the greenhouse gases responsible for global warming — to escape into the atmosphere. In order to reduce global warming, Agbasi says, the industry needs to figure out a way to contain these gases.
Research is incomplete.
Environmentalists have blamed fracking for a slew of recent events — including earthquakes and a rise in cancer rates — and more research is needed before the industry can move forward safely, according to Agbasi. Unfortunately, with 500,000 wells in the works, fracking is already proceeding at full throttle. "The concern is that you don't want to wait until something goes bad before you enact regulatory legislation, because it could be too late," Agbasi says. But the industry is always moving ahead. "There are communities embracing fracking right now," he says. "And people are earning money by selling the rights to drill under their property."
If properly regulated, fracking could be a win-win.
In terms of creating jobs and helping the United States achieve energy independence, fracking could be a big winner in the long run, Agbasi says. "It could get us closer to the amount of energy being produced in Saudi Arabia, and that's attractive for the United States." But it needs to be properly regulated first. "The problem is that people go ahead and trust the industry, but the industry may not do what's right when nobody is looking."