President Donald Trump, along with nearly the entirety of the Republican Party hopes to expand the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking.
Fracking for natural gas is the process of breaking up shale rock formations underneath the Earth’s surface to extract the natural gas. Basically, a series of holes are drilled into the ground and then pumped with a water/chemical mixture to drive the natural gas out of the fissures in the shale.
Most proponents of the practice—which includes numerous Republicans and Democrats—laud the practice for its reduction in atmospheric CO2 along with its potential to stimulate the economy. Conversely, many Americans—and many, many more countries around the world—see fracking as an environmentally derogatory practice that does nothing to inhibit climate change but rather hastens the problem and creates potentially permanent, damaging effects—including contaminated water.
So should the U.S. continue—and expand—the fracking industry? Here are the points and counterpoints.
Point: Fracking Leads to Energy Security
“Fracking will lead to American energy independence.” —Donald Trump
There’s absolutely no debate that fracking is a boon to America’s energy security, and, since energy independence is a crux of President Trump’s economic initiatives, he wants to expand fracking.
Last year, the U.S. imported over 9 million barrels of oil per day (MMb/d), totally over $300 billion spent on oil for the year, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA). If that seems like a lot, well, it’s not. This is actually the lowest level of net imports for the country since 1986, and, because of that, has turned the U.S. into one of the most energy-secure countries in the world, and the reason for much of this is fracking.
Thus far, the U.S. fracking boom has added over 750,000 jobs to the economy and, simultaneously, it has effectively eliminated OPEC in all but name. When OPEC initiated a trade war in 2014 to drive out the U.S. shale industry, it collapsed the country’s economy—and it’s still collapsing. Economist Ambrose Evans-Pritchard described in the Telegraph, “OPEC is now ‘effectively dissolved.’ The cartel might as well shut down its offices in Vienna to save money.”
And this is a good thing. Does U.S. want to economically support nations like Saudi Arabia?
In an address following 2014’s midterm elections, President Barack Obama touted the benefits of the oil and gas boom: “When it can be done safely and appropriately, U.S production of oil and natural gas is important. I would rather us, with all the safeguards and standards that we have, be producing our oil and gas rather than importing it, which is bad for our people, but also potentially purchased from places that have much lower environmental standards than we do.”
Even Hillary Clinton’s former presidential campaign chairman, John Podesta, backed the practice. “If you oppose all fossil fuels and you want to turn that switch off tomorrow, that is a completely impractical way of moving toward a clean-energy future. With all due respect to my friends in the environmental community, if they expect us to turn off the lights and go home, that’s sort of an impractical suggestion.”
This energy independence and subsequent storage also ensures the U.S. remains in a viable economic position as an oil exporter. Since the world still functions off oil, this is a powerful post as a seller in a market in which demand will only increase as oil reserves decrease. It could also spur a manufacturing boom because, when oil’s cheaper here, it means jobs can stay here. A study out of PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) estimates that one million manufacturing jobs can be created within the next eight years thanks to low energy prices and increased demand from the shale gas industry.
One of the goal’s of pretty much every President since Nixon is energy independence. Fracking is a means to achieve that goal, no matter how controversial.
Counterpoint: It’s Pretty Fracking Bad for the Environment
Fracking is pretty fucking bad for the environment. It’s so bad that four countries (France, Germany, Bulgaria, and Scotland) have banned it outright, eight (Czech Republic, Denmark, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Romania, South Africa, and the UK) have instituted moratoriums on the practice, and some 400 communities, cities, and states in the U.S. have put an end to it.
Leaders in the gas industry can tout the environmental benefits—that it burns cleaner CO2 than coal—but that doesn’t change the fact that fracking contaminates water, facilitates climate change, and triggers earthquakes.
1. Fracking Can Destroy Water Sources
Perhaps the most worrisome effect, fracking has the potential to destroy water sources, and, with it, some communities. One particular community in Pavillion, Wyoming, is a victim of hydraulic fracturing. Eight-years-ago, locals, living in the middle of a natural gas basin, complained about the taste and smell of their water. It turns out their water, as published in Environmental Science and Technology, had been polluted by fracking wastes stored within the basin. In fact, the entire groundwater resource in the Wind River Basin is contaminated with chemicals linked to fracking.
2. Fracking Facilitates Climate Change
“Cleaner CO2” is still CO2 emitted into the atmosphere, and, sure, a shale well blowout would probably accentuate the ephemeral beauty of Earth in the most metaphorical—and literal—means imaginable, but, to those who’d rather maintain some of the ephemeral beauty, the primary way to stop climate change is to stop burning fossil fuels, not by adding obscene amounts of methane and ethane into the atmosphere, which is exactly what fracking does, and it’s proven detrimental according to a study out of the University of Colorado. The pro-fracking crowds can obfuscate their pro-environmental stances with this CO2 argument, but, at the end of the day, fracking is a whole lot more harmful than other existing “green-energy” technologies like solar power, wind power, and even nuclear energy, so, perhaps, it’s more worthwhile to invest there.
3. Fracking Triggers Earthquakes
For starters, to produce natural gas from shale formations, hydraulic fracturing cracks the shale rocks so that gas can flow, and be extracted, through these little wells. Many argue this process doesn’t actually trigger earthquakes, but a study out of Canada suggests otherwise, noting that this permeation induces small clusters of earthquakes, and that, while no damaging earthquakes have occurred, it’s important to understand the underlying causes of seismicity to limit the potential for life-threatening earthquakes.
Is this worth the risk for a short-lived economic boom?
Image: Imahornfan CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Tom Burson is a travel writer, part-time hitchhiker, and he’s currently trying to imitate Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? but with more sunscreen and jorts.