America's Fracking Issue: Monopolization of the Energy Industry

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In today's global economy, natural gases have monopolized the industry of energy. Over the past few decades Hydraulic Fracturing or more commonly known as ‘Fracking’ has esteemed itself to a multi-billion dollar industry. Although, this process of obtaining natural gases has been outlawed in many countries. A few still continue to practice this technique like the United States who have established a complete hegemony over the industry. The CEO of a general Electric Alanis Obomsawin refers to the United States as the ‘Saudi Arabia of natural gas’. Despite the major controversies and the negative feedback from the public, these big corporations have turned a blind eye towards the environmental deficits to their practices. In past decades there has been a spike in objection to these ‘unconventional practices’. To be brief the process of fracking is initiated with locating a rich natural drilling site.

The process of Hydraulic Fracturing is hence carried out with a deep vertical drill into the earth's crust known as a ‘wellbore’. The walls of the hole are then covered with a layer of cement when the drilling reaches the depth of 8,000 feet to 10,000 feet. Hence, the drilling is turned ninety degrees horizontally, which is carried out for additional 5,000 feet. Then these deep layers are embedded with specialized ‘perforating gun’ which when fired create an inch long diffraction into the shale layer. Hence, the fracking site is ready for the next stage. After few months of the initial drilling ‘fracking fluid’ is pumped down into the deep hole underground at such intense pressure, which causes the shale rock layer to crack. This would cause ‘fractures’ releasing the trapped gasses and oils from the rock. The process requires 4 to 7 million gallons of water (varying from a different site) for the completion of a single fracking site. This uncanny ‘Fracking fluid’ is a mixture of mostly water and a combination of dissolving acids and various disinfectants. In the final stage, the waste product from the site is either buried underground or kept in ‘large industrial wells’ which would eventually make their way into a disposing site. The waste product of each drilling leaves millions of gallons of the toxic waste product which damages or in most cases seeps into drinking water pipelines. Since the fracking sites can never be restored due to sand left in between the cracks the layer is prone to weaken over time while inflicting chemical damage to other layers nearby. Does this ultimately raise the moral question of if should such experimental techniques (fracking, horizontal drilling) for extracting fossil fuels be pursued in light of environmental concerns? As transparent may, the argument may seem it’s been heavily controversially on both sides of the discussion.

In the corporation's defense, it is often argued that there are lethal gas emissions from the procedure, which may be of concern to public health. A study was recently completed by the chemists at the University of Texas which indicated contamination from fracking wells what results from operational inefficiencies in the extraction process itself. It was observed that many emissions were due to the onsite activities carried out poorly apart than from the actual fracking. However, many studies like such have found rogue methane emissions, which is a potent greenhouse gas. Thus, the gas does not have an immediate effect on human health because it's less concentrated. But the ‘toxic vapor’ formed from the process is a totally different matter of its own. Though the use of a mobile mass spectrometer it measured a BTEX concentration of 5,000 per billion (ppb) originating from various onsite activities. The gasses included flaring units, condensation tanks, and hydrogen sulfide scavengers. While these measurements alone do not completely portray emission at all sites, it strongly suggests that contamination from the fracking well can be monitored, controlled and reduced through better procedures and practices. Another issue raised by the opposition of the fracking community is of the fugitive methane gas emission. The methane gas is nothing short of just a poor cement job during the sealing of the wells, rather than from the fracturing. Even the “EPA considerds emissions from natural gas systems to be fairly low, even compared to agriculture and organic digesters” (Conca). It is often provided that America’s carbon emissions are at all time low due to the shale gas fracking. Even just recently in the past few years, the United States Environmental Protection Agency or commonly referred to as the ‘EPA’. Who has allegedly “cut it’s estimates of methane emissions from natural gas production by 20%, bolstering industry claims that the fuel has a lower carbon footprint”(Conca) discloses James of Forbs. Even in the past decade, electricity from coal have decreased to less than 50% and electrically from natural gas increased by 40% (EPA). Gas is essentially being installed as the primary back-up to the renewables.

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At lighting, speed gas is replacing nuclear in some of the most unregulated markets. Hence, natural, gas use will double in the next few decades. Since natural gas will be a major energy source in the United States it should then be carefully regulated. Many experts agree that just by being careful in their practices, methane and toxic vapor emissions from fracking can be reduced. After investigating the accidental spill caused by fracking wastewater at a shale gas site in Virginia. Avner Vengosh, the professor of geochemistry and water quality at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment suggested, “Based on consistent evidence from comprehensive testing, we found no indication of groundwater contamination over the three-year course of study”(Vengosh, Duke). In a joint collaborative effort with Ohio State University, Stanford University, and Pennsylvania State University many sames of water from 112 drinking wells in West Virginia were tested over the three year study period. The samples were extensively tested for contaminants such as salts, metals, methane gas, propane, and ethane. “The collective samples were systematically analyzed”(Vengosh). These similar forensic tracers allowed the scientists to figure out the contaminations in the water stream from nearby shale gas operation or from human interventions. The tests allowed a pre-drilling and post-drilling well water sample comparison. After completion of the testing, “The well water samples had a chemistry that was subtly but distinctively different from isotopic fingerprints of methane and salts contained in fracking fluids and shale gas. This indicated that they occurred naturally in the regions shallow aquifers and were not the result of the recent shale gas operations”(Vengosh). Thus, disproving the myth in the lie that groundwater is affected by the fracking.

Many Anti- Fracking supports would immensely disagree with the argument since it is the sole requisite in their case. However, in a collaborative segment with Fox News Avner Vengosh admitted that “The accidental spills of fracking wastewater is viciously dangerous to surface water in the nearby area” (Vengosh). In this new era of natural gas extraction methods franking technology has far enabled scientist to further expand into using it to dispose of nuclear waste. More towards the interests of big corporations these methods have been proven to be cost efficient and ‘just good enough’ at getting the job done. The technology takes advantage of the newly discovered territory of drilling technologies to place nuclear waste in a series of few mile-long tunnels below the earth's surface. The key to the fracking business is that it is cheap at a corporate level and the rates have been only getting better in the past 20 years.The key aspect to Deep Isolation strategy is the use of horizontal drilling. “Over the years, America has become so good at drilling that it produces more fossil fuel (gas, oil, and coal together) than any other nation”(Conca).Therefore, adapting the rechnolgot to nuclear waste should be easy. The essence of the discussion takes an expenditure towards newer territory using a technology that has yet to be strictly regulated by legislation. There is a drastic ‘switch’ from using the method for extracting natural gasses to now storing nuclear waste underneath the ground. “The nice thing about horizontal drill-hole disposal is that it almost doesn’t matter where you put it in the country. At that depth, with billions of tons of rock between the waste and the surface, you’re so deep in the crust that the overlying rocks don’t matter. The water table doesn’t matter. The climate doesn’t matter. Human activities don’t matter”(Conca). While debating the ethics and being mildly environmental conscious of technologies as such without hesitation destroying the scales of natural inhabitants and possibly the balance of power between human interventions with mother nature. This discussion does not require an engineering genius to conclude the aftermath of the environmental disasters caused at an expensive scale. The everlasting environmental costs at which these resources are obtained is unethical. These big corporations have tendencies of making tall environmentally conscious claims, yet seek a cheaper, more lucrative route at the cost of the planet.

To fracking's opposition, many people conceive its short and long term environmental impairments. Unfortunately, these big corporations often cherry pick the issues which often exempts them from paying any sum of reparations to the affected party. Over the years landowners, farmers and just ordinary civilians have filed thousands of lawsuits against big fracking corps. As mentioned earlier, in order to frack an enormous amount of water is mixed with various toxic chemical compounds. That fluid is then contaminated again with heavy metals and radioactive elements from the shale rock. Hence, a very significant amount of fracking fluid springs back to the surface, where it spills into rivers, streams, and dams. But also the underground water would also be contaminated by fracking through migration of the trapped gas underneath. The owner and director of Chesapeake Energy, America’s leading producer of natural gas Aubrey McClendon estimated there to be, “1.2 million wells drilled nationwide”(Goodell). Yet there have only been a few confirmed cases where things have gone wrong, “despite sheer warnings from scientists and environmentalists that fracking pollutes rivers and streams, contaminates drinking water and turns large swaths of farmland into industrial moonscape”(Goodell) writes an editor in chief Jeff Goodell. In the case of companies like Chesapeake, their main profit comes not from selling the gas, but from selling land that contains the gas.

According to Arthur Berman, a respected energy consultant in Texas who has spent years studying the industry says, “Chesapeake and its lesser competitors resemble a Ponzi scheme, overhyping the promise of shale gas in an effort to recoup their huge investments in leases and drillings”(Goodell). In order to hydraulically fracture shale and extract the hydrocarbons a large sum of water and chemicals would need to be injected underground. Hence fracking would pose a threat to local water resources, especially in areas where water is already very scarce. In western states such as Texas and Colorado, over 4 million gallons are needed per fracture. In 2010, says Stone that, “ the EPA estimated that 80 to 150 billion gallons of water were used to fracture just 35,000 well in the United States, more was used by the city of Denver, Colorado in the same time”(Stone). Since trucking water from far away would be more expensive, companies prefer to use water from sources as close to the drilling as well as possible, which can result in a significant impact on local waterways and agriculture. Due to the heavy load of water required for the fracturing process, the water is required to be stored away in a good pad. There are two types of impoundments specifies Stone, “those that hold drilling waste, used while drilling the good bore, and impoundments from the fracking fluid. The frack fluid pits are larger and contain toxic fracking fluid. The open pits have been linked to animal deaths and health effects in humans” (Stone). To add to the problem the fracking fluid is still a mystery in itself since companies are not obligated to disclose what ingredients they use in preparing the mixture. Moreover, many chemicals used in fracking have been documented in the past to have deleterious health effects at small levels of exposure, some of the chemicals that comprise fracking fluid are highly toxic and cancer-causing, such as Benzene and 2-butoxyethanol.

Once this fluid is mix is injected in the ground and extracted back to the surface it is even more toxic carrying continents like radium, cancer-causing radioactive particle found within the shales layer. Hence, the experimental practice of fracking and horizontal drilling is very damaging to the environment. It has seeped into drinking water, unfertilized land masses. Moreover, it lacks government intervention and strict regulation in order to standardize safety and health concerns. The big corporations have essentially been cutting corners when it came to land contamination prevention and carefully disposing of the large amounts of toxic waste. Of course, corporations would refrain from showing the ‘dark side’ of Hydraulic Fracking because it would hurt their selfish means to capitalize upon it. Fracking along with horizontal drilling is an immense threat to the environment and its inhabitants. In the present time, it lacks strict supervision of the drilling sites to minimize toxic pollution.

In my views, fracking raises extreme environmental concerns in addition to already existent air and water pollution, along with other environmental dangers on the horizon. It is responsible for oil spills, inflicting damage to land and agriculture with the extent of vitally infiltrating human drinking water-ways. Fracking has also been discovered to even initiate earthquakes due to high amounts of pressure caused during the drilling. Not to mention the migration of potent gases from hydraulic fracturing sites and millions of gallons of cancer-causing contaminants found in fracking fluid, which has yet to be faced with any sanitary regulations. To close off, Big corporations have had it far too easy for far too long surpassing through ‘loopholes’ with the legislation. The very concept and practice of the fracking industry are to deindustrialize the environment while intoxicating the soil to be nothing but an ‘extraction site’. The modern day technology and research have reached amandable new heights, but for whose interests? The modern technology is only subservient to such big corporations, who capitalize upon the depredations and dismentalization of the environment. Lastly, I would say what good are the natural resources and the ‘booming economy’ if it comes at the cost of the public and nature's health?

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