Many are often amazed at the term hydraulic Fracturing. Hydraulic fracturing is a technique that involves typical mixing of water with chemicals and sand, under high pressure. The mixture is injected into wellbore to create small fractures where fluids such as petroleum, gas, brine water and uranium-bearing solution might migrate to the well. It is at this point that some have voiced their concern on the possible pollution of ground water due to the injection of these chemicals to the ground (Spellman 45). However, others have also supported the process so strongly citing that the amount of chemicals released in the ground is very minimal that it cannot cause pollution to underground water. Hydraulic fracturing economically is more efficient but is contaminating ground water in the process so this needs to be improved. By using Rogerian model of argument, we shall be able to find a common ground for both proponents and opponents of this controversial topic (Baumlin 39).
Rogerian argument allows us to find areas of agreement of two opposing views without prejudice. According to Rogerian argument model, the common ground in resolving the debate surrounding hydraulic fracturing is to provide tangible evidences that are not deniable to all (Baumlin 40). Well, a critical analysis of the whole process will help in unearthing the truth in the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and polluting ground water.
Hydraulic fracturing has been in use since 1940s with Michigan having more than 12,000 wells that are using the process to release trapped gas and oil. By 1988, there were over one million hydraulic operations being carried out and, since then, the industry has continued to grow. Whether or not hydraulic fracturing has harmful impacts on the local water supplies is something that has been debated heavily with numerous reported cases of the contaminated ground water. However, it has been difficult to narrow down to the exact cause with one side blaming the process and the proponents finding external issues that are unrelated to fracturing as causing the contamination (Cobbing, Adams and Dennis 25 ).
Both proponents and opponents of hydraulic fracturing have the responsibility to preserve the environment. They all agree that underground water is very useful to our well being just like rain water. Regardless of the benefits that the process brings about, the health and environmental issues surrounding hydraulic fracturing such as groundwater contamination with natural gas byproducts and methane gas cannot be assumed. Recently, industries have responded through stating that the whole process is safe and methane cannot travel through thousands of feet between the wells and aquifers. However, this is contradictory since there are tangible evidence effects of hydraulic fracturing.
The following passage presents the real-life examples of possible pollution of the underground water due to hydraulic fracturing. A study conducted by SWPA-EHP on people living near Washington County, near Marcellus shale hydraulic fracturing site showed that the people displayed symptoms that are consistent with the toxic exposure to the chemicals (Hall 46). The study showed that twenty-seven people displayed poisoning symptoms that included irritations and rashes since the beginning of hydraulic fracturing. The number might seem small but any medical case requires the use of only candidates who fall under the specific criteria, like exposure opportunity and symptoms timing since the beginning of drilling are normally part of the group so as to prevent the use of numerous unrelated patients from the study. A good example is when in New York City, there was a discovery of West Nile Virus (Dahm 650). With only five victims of the virus in a case series, it was considered a problem, therefore with 27 people in the hydraulic fracturing case there is a need for a cause of concern. Personnel in the public health sector are equally worried about long-term untested results on people who reside near hydraulic fracturing sites because of potential for fracturing chemicals to create water or air pollution.
Both proponents and opponents of this process agree that there are grey areas in the industry regulation. It is quite alarming that some of the environmental regulations exempt hydraulic fracturing practices from having to follow some Acts like The Clean Water Act, through excluding the permits required in discharge of storm water from the activities of gas and oil construction which other companies abide by. There is regulation by The Safe Drinking Water Act on the injection into the ground of materials, but makes exclusion on those that are related to hydraulic fraction, as long as there is no use of diesel.
The proponents of hydraulic process have argued that argued that hydraulic fracturing does not cause serious health or environmental problems. They state that only a fraction of 0.5% of the fluids used in fracturing is chemicals that are mostly used in order to avoid productivity loss in the well-prevent fouling. They also affirm that injection of these fluids is normally done thousands of feet below aquifer and fracturing event is just a minor part in harvesting of natural resource and lasts a few hours is also misleading. Small or big the contamination may be, the bottom line is that hydraulic fracturing is a threat to ecosystem, and we all agree on this. Researchers from Duke University on 24th June 2013 gave a report on detection of methane in the Pennsylvanian drinking water and further claims in the report that the bubby methane’s serious contamination is more prevalent in wells that are within a radius of one kilometer from the gas drilling sites (Rozell and Reaven 192). It is difficult to accomplish the injection without accompanying stages. There can be faulty pipelines and wellbores construction or possible damage during the process, hence allowing fluids to flow in the aquifers. Evaporation of waste water from ponds allows for evaporation of volatile chemicals while overflowing of the ponds with rain water might result to runoff getting its way into the ground water systems.
The economic benefits gotten from the vast amount of hydrocarbons extracted through this process is undeniable. However, the potential dangers it poses on both human make the process environment-friendly in extracting the hydrocarbon. The potential impacts to the environment which includes ground water contamination, depletion of fresh water, noise pollution, risks onto the air quality, migration of the hydraulic fracturing chemicals and gases to the surface, contamination of surface by flow-back and spills and the consequent health effects cannot be traded for monetary benefits.
The fact that some countries placed bans of the process and later lifted the ban does not justify the process in anyway. In an attempt to address the environmental concerns, engineers and geologists have for the past four decades been involved in development of a process that is more economically efficient. Reusing of the old wells is one of the strategies used to conserve energy; this has led to effective fracturing of around 35,000 unconventional wells annually, hence imposing minimal damaging impacts on the nearby reservoirs for groundwater (Gambolati and Verri 67). Reuse of old wells has consequently improved the hydraulic fracturing environmental impact, but the process still remains to be far from being environmental friendly.
In fact, main concern is on lack of a long-term effect research into effects that the chemicals that are used in fracturing have on human beings and environment that surrounds it together with some grey areas in the industry regulation. Lack of regulations has even been acknowledged by even those in the industry with lawmakers from both federal and state working on the establishment of a system of drilling rules and regulations, and most of gas and oil companies have acknowledged that the environment maintenance and prevention leaks are important for them as well.
Recently, there has been a study which was conducted at Austin by the University of Texas. The study asserted that there is direct contamination by hydraulic fracturing on the ground water sources (Osborna, Vengosh and Warner 8174). The study additionally found out that the natural gas, which is found in some of the water wells in shale formations, can be possibly traced to the natural sources and most likely were present even before the oil and gas operations took place (Gambolati and Veri 78). There is also negatively decided media coverage on hydraulic fracturing with few of the new reports including the scientific research on the hydraulic fracturing process.
There is a need for clean energy production and environmental protection but the current demands for energy cannot be realistically met without fossil fuels because without this energy life could end up being brutal and short. Regulations requiring for the fluids to be kept in secondary contaminated tanks instead of using open ponds should be strictly adhered to (King, Bryan and Clark 25). The leaders in the gas industry have tout major benefits of the natural gas over other sources of energy like coal due to its ability in burning cleaner. It has also resulted to positive economic growth role. By use of hydraulic fracturing, newfound reservoirs of the nation can help in offsetting economic cost of oil importation. Garbage trucks, delivery trucks and some of the long-haul trucks have began to switch to the cheaper natural gas and away from the oil-delivered diesel with every company applying for permits of exporting this natural gas to Asia and Europe. In the U.S., according to employment and economic contribution of Shell gas, oil and gas industries support 9.2 million jobs and in ten years period, a million new oil and gas industry jobs could be created.
There is a need for transparency by industries where they must disclose their nature of the chemicals that are used during hydraulic fracturing process. The industries should also routinely measure the drilling impact that the operations have on the water and air quality and ensure that the information is made publicly available. The biggest water quality risk arises from the huge water volumes that are brought to the surface along with natural gas. One well site can produce millions of gallons that are laced with the naturally occurring radioactive elements such as radium and storage of such water in the containment ponds on surface presents more risks and the better option is by having it recycled through underground injection as part of drilling loop.
Though most of the environmental and health questions that surround hydraulic fracturing are unresolved, it is difficult for one too say with certainty that the practice (in any quantifiable terms) is worth it. However, economic impacts derived from the process are understandable. Nevertheless, hydraulic fracturing is not viable in the long run though it produces cleaner and more efficient gas. Having that in mind, it is essential, however, to note that the nation’s energy needs can be shouldered by alternative clean energies like solar and wind. Due to this inevitable gap, and no better choices being made available, benefits of natural gas utilization as energy resource is too remarkable to be simply halted entirely. Instead, there should be implementation of baseline federal regulation to ensure that environmental concerns and basic safety about the process are genuinely addressed. The rules need not to hamper, but encourage the industry’s further innovations that will focus on minimizing the negative impact of hydraulic fracturing.
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