Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking as it is commonly referred to as, can be considered as the most innovative technology in energy production in the 21st century. Fracking is the process of breaking up the shale found beneath the surface of the earth to extract natural gas supplies (Hasset & Mathur, 11). It involves the process of drilling a series of holes into the ground, which are then pumped with a fluid (mainly water) to create pressure that forces natural gas out of the cracks for extraction. In as much as hydraulic fracturing has been adopted widely as a method of extracting oil and gas, it has generated heated debates over the years. The debate surrounding fracking has mainly centered on whether the benefits of the process justify the risks that are associated with it (Rafferty & Elena, 7). Proponents of hydraulic fracturing cite the benefits that relate to it such as increased production of oil and gas, economic benefits and energy security among others. The opponents of fracking, on the other hand, cite the risks of hydraulic fracturing which are mainly environmental risks. Such a risk includes contamination of ground water with methane used in the extraction process. However, it should be noted that most opponents argue from a lack of awareness point of view and cannot substantiate their claims (Boudet et. al, 57-59). Fracking combined with deep horizontal drilling has been a major development in the oil and gas industry, and to simply put it, without fracking the industry would not survive. Hydraulic fracturing is an efficient and convenient method of oil and gas extraction and its adoption and use results in huge benefits for both the consumers, the economy and the producing country.
Hydraulic fracturing offers a cheaper, efficient and convenient method of extracting oil and gas, and has been in use for a very long period of time. Hydraulic fracturing involves the combination of underground drilling and the injection of highly pressurized fluids to extract gas and oil (Rafferty & Elena, 3). The main principle behind the fracking process is the use of hydraulic force to force water crack up the rock formations bearing the oil and gas so that the oil and gas can seep up through the cracks and be extracted. The conventional fossil fuels extraction methods mainly employ a trial and error method of drilling numerous holes so as to penetrate rocks in order to extract the oil and gas. It is usually a very cumbersome process and also an expensive method of extraction. Conventional methods are expensive in the sense that many holes have to be drilled in different parts and they are also labor intensive. The conventional methods of extraction also have limits as they cannot carry out the extraction of oil and gases in some areas with rich deposits of these resources. Fracking offers a better method of extraction and solution to the problems facing the conventional method (Brown, 120-121). Only a few holes have to be drilled in fracking and there is a more likelihood of finding these fossil fuels when hydraulic fracturing is used. It is also a major development in the extraction of oil and gas as it is now possible to tap into reserves that were previously thought to be difficult to penetrate by conventional methods (Hasset & Mathur, 12). This shows the massive expansion that has been experienced in the energy production sector. With the fracking technology, the world has a new, efficient and convenient method of extracting oil and gas.
Hydraulic fracturing also results in minimal economic waste which is usually brought about by the conventional drilling methods. Fracking solves the problem by not only increasing production of oil and gas but by also eliminating the need of having to drill numerous oil wells in close proximity to each other. This can be attributed to the fact the hydraulic fracturing uses well-targeted and controlled boreholes. The implication is that huge financial costs and space wasted during extraction using the conventional drilling methods can be reduced greatly.
Another great benefit of hydraulic fracturing is the economic benefits of the technology. The efficiency of fracking in the extraction of oil and gas has greatly boosted the economies of the oil producing countries such as the United States of America. Hydraulic fracturing has resulted in the resurgence of oil and gas production in these producing countries and has also led to the dramatic increase in the production of natural gas ((Hasset & Mathur, 11). Fracking has propelled USA from being a declining producer of natural gas and oil into one of the leading producers in the world today (Yergin, 1). It has also been noted that hydraulic fracturing technology has turned out to be a big boost for the American economy by creating new jobs, improving the country’s competitive advantage globally and drawing more investments (Yergin, 1).
Fracking has resulted in a positive economic growth for the USA given the 2 million jobs that are now being supported by the oil and gas industry (Hasset & Mathur, 11). Fracking has led to the employment of the very many jobless people in the country hence enabling the reduction in the unemployment rates. The value of increased production of natural gas in the USA can be attributed to fracking. It is reported that a total of 8,500,983 cubic feet of natural gas was produced in 2011 (Hasset & Mathur, 11). The significant increase in oil and gas production also means that the producing countries would earn more revenues from the sale of and the taxes related to the extraction. Consumers of oil and gas have also turned out to be the greatest benefactors of hydraulic fracturing technology. Since the introduction of fracking in the oil and gas industry, the extraction and production of oils and gas has increased significantly. This has led to a bigger supply in the market and this has ultimately led to the lowering of the costs oil and gas to affordable rates (Daniel & Sheldon, 1)
Hydraulic fracturing has also impacted the trade balances of producing countries, mainly because of the increased production. The increased production of natural gas and oil has directly impacted the trade balances between the producer countries and the other countries. In USA for example, the imports on natural gases decreased significantly by 25% between the years 2007 and 2011 (Hasset & Mathur, 12). Also, the petroleum imports decreased significantly. Current estimates indicate that by the year 2020, with more reserves of shale gas being discovered, the USA would become a major exporter of natural gas (Hasset & Mathur, 12). For the producing countries, hydraulic fracturing means a massive expansion in the energy production sector and more natural gas. A massive increase in the in the supply of natural gas would result in the less importation of natural gas and other fossil fuels and lower prices of oil and gas for the consumers.
Furthermore, from an economical point of view, hydraulic fracturing would lead to positive indirect impacts on the economy of any country. The first one would be that an increase in production would have multiple effects on the economy. With more people getting money from engaging in hydraulic fracking activities, they will be prompted to spend much of this money on other items that they need. They may also decide to invest in businesses that may employ many others. Their employees would spend the wages they earn. This would ultimately result in economic growth for the country. Also, with fracking allowed in a given state, the prices of land adjacent to these sites will increase because of the production activities. This would make the landowners wealthy (Hasset & Mathur, 12).
Fracking, being a major development in the energy industry, has resulted in a high energy independence and high energy security in the countries using hydraulic fracturing as the extraction method. The industrialized nations such as the USA have bigger economies and hence their energy needs and uses are more. Although a number of alternative sources of energy such as solar, wind and nuclear may exist, the demand for energy by the bigger economies is never enough. With increased natural gas production and economic growth, energy consumption is bound to go up hence raising the demand. Natural gases from fracking increase the energy supply of these countries tremendously and as a result, the consumers in these countries would have a wider range to choose from. Natural gas would supplement the sources of energy available in the country and would also bridge the energy-deficiency gap. Shale gas is a promising natural resource that should be utilized to meet the energy needs of a country. A majority of the shallow reserves containing gas and oil have all been exploited, but there is still more wealth that can be tapped in between the layers of the shale rock. All a country needs to do is to adopt fracking as a means of extracting this natural resource. In the USA, for example, the natural gas reserves currently are enough to power the country for the next 200 years (Green, 3).
Hydraulic fracturing also results in a number of environmental benefits. Natural gas offers a cleaner and much more efficient source of energy as compared to the other carbon-based sources such as coal that is extensively used in the developed nations. In a study carried out by (Environment Protection Agency) EPA, it was found out that natural gas burns cleaner with fewer pollutants released in the air (Tuttle, 1). The other sources of energy release carbon emissions to the atmosphere that ultimately leads to the problems of global warming and sustainability. It should be noted that the use of carbon-based energy sources such as coal leads to direct deaths of people and also indirect deaths due to the pollutants released into the atmosphere (Hasset & Mathur, 12). Global warming and climate change are currently the most serious environmental problems and are brought about by the carbon emissions into the atmosphere. As the world moves towards the adoption of cleaner energies, such as solar, wind and nuclear, natural gas also offers good alternative from which many countries can choose. Fracking offers a bridge towards a carbon-free world.
Despite the opponents of hydraulic fracturing citing environmental risks as the main issues with the technology, fracking has performed well with regards to environmental protection as it has a strong track record. Further, studies by EPA and the Ground Water Protection Agency (GWPS) have indicated that there is no direct link between fracking and ground water contamination (Marks, 4). Lisa Jackson, an administrator with EPA, recently said that she was not aware of a proven case where ground water has been contaminated by the process of hydraulic fracturing (Tuttle, 1). It can be concluded that many opponents of fracking arrive at their conclusions based on hearsays and their perceptions about hydraulic fracturing (Marks, 4). Studies into the issue are the ones that can conclusively state whether hydraulic fracturing has environmental risks.
It is also evident that hydraulic fracturing offers an efficient and more sustainable way of extraction of oil and gas. Fracking has a minimal impact on the biodiversity (variation of species within a habitat) of an area as compared to the traditional methods of extraction. A lot of oil and natural gas deposits have been found to in areas with high biodiversity (Butt et. al, 425-426). A combination of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling technology has enabled drilling operations to begin further away from the area where the risk of disrupting the environment is very high. Hydraulic fracturing technology has also been used safely for a very long period of time not only in the production of gas and oil but also in geothermal energy production and water wells. This goes on to show that the technology is already in use and hence those having concerns about the safety of the technology should note that it is already an existing technology but with little adjustments.
Hydraulic fracturing, when done correctly with the best engineering, leads to a win for both the consumers of oil and gas, economies of countries engaging in its production and the environment. Just like any other industry that involves people and machines, there is bound to be risks that would affect both the people and the environment around them. As a result, the risks associated with hydraulic fracturing should be minimized through the formulation of policies that would act as a guide and code on the rules of operation (Green, 4). Having said so, it should be noted that going back to the conventional methods of drilling would be considered impractical, inefficient and ill-advised. This is simply because the conventional methods offer an inefficient and expensive method of extraction, and also lead to a number of environmental problems. As we speak, no other technology offers an efficient, effective and convenient method of extraction other than hydraulic fracturing.
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