Natural gas is swiftly taking over as a major energy resource, both in the world and the United States alike. The technique used for extracting natural gas is called hydraulic fracturing, or shortly – fracking. This process dumps chemicals deep into the ground and breaks the shale. While fracking may be a cheaper, more convenient way for companies to extract natural gas, the byproducts that it brings to the environment are polluted water, increased seismic activity, structural demolition, as well as the release of greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. To put this briefly, the process for extracting natural gas is harmful to the environment and, subsequently, humanity as well.
The processed explained
Hydraulic fracturing is a process mainly used to extract natural gas from deep underground. It’s more often referred to as simply fracking. The drilling goes down thousands of feet below surface, often up to a mile deep, and finally turns horizontally to reach the target – the gas pockets. After that, we have thousands of gallons of water mixed alongside with chemicals forced down through the hole under high pressure, cracking the rock and releasing the, so called, shale gas. The special mixture used for breaking the rock and releasing the gas, also maintains the fracture opening to allow it to exit to the surface through the man-made opening. The gas is mixed with the water and comes up to the surface in the now polluted liquid. Then it is finally separated from it to remove the natural gas.
The effects fracking has on the environment have been under investigation for a couple years now. Water pollution is one issue that was found to be a direct result from it. The Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, has documented the first study tracing underground water pollution back to fracking after monitoring water sources in Wyoming in 2011. The study has shown high levels of benzene, acetone, toluene and traces of diesel fuel in wells. Another study was done by the Duke University; it monitored shallow groundwater systems of more than 200 homeowners, mostly in New York and the Marcellus Shale region of Pennsylvania. Even if it didn’t reveal salt concentrations or fracturing fluids in water samples, it did contain, on average, 17 times higher levels of methane than the water in the wells from other regions. Many lawsuits were filled for water contamination cause by fracking.
It is caused by the following human errors:
- surface spills
- leaking tanks
- abandoned wells
- and many others…
The contamination itself is caused in different ways, most of which come from just plain and simple negligence.
Why do it?
Since it’s been well established and documented that fracking causes water pollution, why does it continue? The truth is that the demand for natural gas has grown substantially, especially with the geopolitical instability that makes other fuels less available. Not to mention the fact that other energy sources, such as oil and coal are also linked to environmental problems, so it’s natural for people to look for other solutions. It has already been praised by numerous institutions as a cleaner and safer way to meet the world’s growing energy needs than its alternatives. With all of this being said, maybe it’s not such a bad thing that by 2030 natural gas is expected to account for a quarter of the world’s total energy, especially when you consider the current alternatives.