The global economy has suffered greatly in the past decade, with mounting gas prices and unemployment hitting hard on the wallets of ordinary citizens, while governments struggle to find a way out of the crisis. Considering the elevated prices of oil, natural gas has become an alternative energy source for many countries, where extraction methods are constantly evolving. Low natural gas prices and increased production rates have increased the popularity of fracking in the last decade. Those who oppose this extraction method, as well as fervent supporters, are putting it in the spotlight while regulations and environmental studies are being made.
Fracking or hydraulic fracturing is a new drilling technology used to extract natural gas from shale deposits. The process begins by drilling deep vertical wells under the surface, until the shale sections are reached. Water, sand and chemicals are injected at high pressure to induce fractures in the rock, so that natural gas mixes with water and flows back to the surface. This well stimulation process increases the amount of recovered natural gas, especially in the reservoirs where the gas is highly dispersed in the rock.
Those in favour of fracking claim that cheaper fuel is the main benefit of this process. Natural gas is a cleaner energy source than oil or coal and a highly effective extraction process makes it very attractive in terms of cost. They also claim that fracking generates employment in the extraction areas and, paired with low gas and electricity costs, helps boosts the economy.
Fracking opponents, however, worry more about the environmental consequences of the extraction. Large amounts of fresh water are used, but most of it ends up as waste water. In addition, fracking may contaminate water reservoirs and pollute air with methane gas, increasing global warming. Furthermore, it's been hypothesized that fracking may cause earthquakes in the extraction areas due to displacement of air and water in the bedrock, thus endangering the lives of local residents.
Several studies are being made by universities and government agencies, in order to determine the pros and cons of fracking. These studies will help decide if this practice is safe enough to be continued and what regulations should be implemented, in order to reap the full benefits of this extraction method. Moreover, surveys show that public opinion on fracking is highly divided, since most people think that the information available is biased. Nonobjective media, overreacting environmentalists and hidden agendas have created a skeptic audience, ambivalent about this drilling method.
All this controversy around natural gas fracking puts a heavy weight upon the heads of government officials and legislators. Even though the short term benefits of fracking are evident, especially during economic recession, there's a chance that irreversible environmental harm may be done. There's no clear way around this conundrum and it's up to the people in power to evaluate what sacrifices must be made. In the mean time, the debate must continue at every possible level until a decision about fracking is made, either by the government or the citizens.