A fracking site in Colorado
There is wide agreement that the United States needs more options for acquiring new energy sources. There is wide disagreement, however, on what we should be willing to risk in the process. A newly popular process to extract oil and gas highlights this issue.
Fracking is more accurately called hydraulic fracturing. It involves injecting pressurized fluid into below-ground rock formations to increase the flow of oil, natural gas, or other fossil fuel substances into wells for extraction. Fracking could produce billions of barrels of oil in the United States alone. Increasing domestic exploration is widely accepted as a good idea, since importing oil can be expensive, especially when the supply is at risk from high prices imposed by OPEC, embargoes, and even terrorist threats. In addition, fracking also promises to create thousands of new jobs. The sale of leases for fracking sites could raise money to fund roads and schools. Fracking may even lead to development of clean, renewable geothermal energy. So on one side of the equation, fracking makes good economic sense.
Other factors must be considered, however. The environmental costs could be staggering. Of major concern is the mounting evidence that links fracking with earthquakes. The problems develop less from the fracking process itself than from the need to dispose of millions of gallons of contaminated wastewater. One option is to push the water deep underground. There, according to a geologist who specializes in seismic research, the fluid can lubricate fault lines—basically greasing the wheels of the earthquake process—and destabilize the rock. If the water isn’t pumped underground, it has to be decontaminated and recycled, which is an expensive proposition. There are also reports of severe groundwater contamination near fracking sites. In one town, residents’ tap water was so polluted it could be set on fire. Whether the benefits of fracking will outweigh the costs remains to be seen.
Image credit: AP Photo/David Zalubowski
- Hydraulic Fracturing
Learn about fracking mechanics and methods.
(Source: Wikipedia; accessed January 31, 2012)
Hydraulic Fracking Technology
Check out a diagram of fracking methodology.
(Source: U.S. Department of Energy; accessed January 31, 2012)
Energy Oil Reserves (Most Recent) by Country
Compare various countries’ oil reserves.
(Source: CIA World Factbook; accessed January 31, 2012)
Fracking Tied to Unusual Rise in Earthquakes in U.S.
This article describes a USGS report that finds a correlation between fracking activities and the dramatic increase in the number of earthquakes.
(Source: Bloomberg.com, April 12, 2012)