Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, has become one of the fastest-growing methods for tapping into abundant shale reserves held within the U.S. The process works by pumping fracturing fluids-like slickwater, gel or foam–into a wellbore at a sufficient enough rate to fracture the rocks below. When these fractures occur, the operator injects proppants into the well to prevent the fractures from closing when the fluid pressure is reduced. And finally, oil and gas leak from the fractures into the well for extraction.
But the revolutionary process is not without its drawbacks, as many criticize the side effects caused from fracking. Below, we outline the case against fracking and why a number of people have rallied against this rapidly-developing energy extraction method [for more fracking news and analysis subscribe to our free newsletter].
The Drawbacks of Fracking
The outrage against fracking has led to numerous protests and rallies, a documentary, and has even inspired a major motion picture in recent years. While there are a number of issues that the opposition points out, there are a select few that seem to be consistent across the board:
- Fracking and the Water Supply: Whether or not fracking has a harmful impact on local water supplies has been heavily debated. There have been numerous reported cases of contaminated drinking water, but it has often been difficult to narrow down the exact cause. While one side of the argument blames fracking, proponents of the extraction method have found external issues unrelated to fracking that caused the water contamination. All in all, it seems quite likely that fracking has soiled groundwater in multiple communities, but definitive proof has been obfuscated by data from both sides.
- The Environmental Impact: Aside from the worries over sour drinking water, environmentalists have grown more and more concerned about fracking’s impact on wildlife and nature as a whole. According to the National Wildlife Federation, “the extraction of unconventional natural gas can create air quality problems, such as increased ozone and smog levels, that can cause health risks for people and wildlife.” The NWF also notes that construction roads and drilling pads have led to the clearing of thousands of acres of wildlife and habitats.
- Chemical Disclosures: Another sticking point for the oppositions is the chemicals used during the process, because, often, the contents are not fully disclosed. “The fracking cocktail includes acids, detergents and poisons that are not regulated by federal laws but can be problematic if they seep into drinking water,” writes Susan L. Brantley and Anna Meyendorff.
- Fracking and Earthquakes: In some of the most severe cases, many have argued that fracking has caused increased seismic activity and earthquakes; Oklahoma in particular has been a poster child for this claim. In 2009, Oklahoma saw more than 1,000 quakes when the annual average falls around 50 for that region. “Scientists now say Oklahoma’s largest earthquake in 2011 – with a 5.7 magnitude that was felt in at least 17 states – was indeed caused by fracking” writes Morgan Korn.
The Bottom Line
Much ado has been made about this controversial process, as it has already been banned in several European nations despite their abundance of natural resources. But while many will continue to fight fracking, it likely isn’t going anywhere. The opposition against oil drilling has been strong in the past decade as we witnessed the Deepwater Horizon Spill (not to mention the Exxon-Valdez fiasco in 1989). Still, big oil is not budging; there may be harsher regulations in place, but our economies are heavily dependent on the products produced.
The same may be true of fracking, as the resources it produces outweigh the costs in the minds of many. As the process picks up steam, there will likely come more regulations and red tape, but as a whole, it seems unlikely that fracking will be cooling down anytime soon.
Disclosure: No positions at time of writing.