Hydraulic Fracturing is a Divisive Issue

Hydraulic fracturing, perhaps better known as "fracking", is a method of extracting energy sources, most specifically oil and gas, from beneath the ground. The practice entails injecting high-pressurized water, sand and chemicals, to aid in breaking through rock to release the oil and gas trapped inside, creating a fracture in the shale.

This procedure allows the oil or gas to be released, which many industry experts say these energy sources would be too difficult to mine otherwise. However, in recent years the practice has become very controversial in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom and other countries.

Perceived Benefits of Fracking

Advocates of hydraulic fracturing note the accessing of otherwise unattainable oil and gas will allow a higher degree of energy independence. By engaging in fracking, a large amount of oil and gas can be attained, which some estimates say will help the United States be energy independent for approximately 100 to 110 years. In Canada, the estimates are similar. According to the the New Brunswick government, the gas reservoirs currently trapped in rock in the province could provide electricity for residential, industry and commercial use for over 100 years.

Additionally, by investing energies in fracking, proponents of this method of extraction of natural resources note the ability to increase jobs, benefiting both local economies and the overall job market. There are those in recent years who have said they believe the dangers of fracking are overstated. [1]

Hydraulic Fracturing-Related Activities
Credit: US Environmental Protection Agency/Public Domain

Illustration of hydraulic fracturing and related activities

Why Some People are Protesting Fracking

Many people believe fracking is dangerous to both the environment and health. The chemicals are said to be full of carcinogens and toxins such as lead, uranium, mercury, ethylene glycol, radium, hydrochloric acid, methanol and formaldehyde. [2]

Opponents to this practice point out the potential dangers to the environment which include wasteful and contaminated water. Allegedly, 1-8 million gallons of water and 40,000 gallons of chemicals are needed to run each fracturing job.

To add to the controversy, in 2012 it was reported a U.S. professor with financial ties to the gas industry had written in a study that fracking for gas deep beneath Earth's surface was not contributing to water contamination. [3]

The increased level of seismic activity is another concern and many feel not enough is known about the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and earthquakes that have occurred in both the United States and United Kingdom. A study funded by the National Science Foundation and U.S. Geological Survey in 2013 suggested at least three earthquakes were linked to fracking activities. There have been other studies on the issue that also suggest a correlation between earthquakes and fracking.

In late July 2012 , an estimated 5,000 activists arrived from several different states to Washington D.C. and marched up Capitol Hill to protest fracking. I was downtown that day and saw the groups collectively gathering in front of the Capitol building.

Activists arrive on Capitol Hill in 2012 to protest fracking

"No Fracking Way!"

The  2 p.m. (eastern time) rally, called "Stop the Frack Attack", began on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol Building and concluded with a rally march to the headquarters of America's Natural Gas Alliance and the American Petroleum Institute. Thousands of people raised their signs, chanted and donned anti-fracking t-shirts to make clear their opinions on this highly divisive issue.

Fracking protest on Capitol Hill (2012)
Credit: Leigh Goessl/All rights reserved

Fracking protest on Capitol Hill (2012)

Where Things Stand Now

Fast forward to 2016 and the debate continues in many countries, although the practice of hydraulic fracturing continues. A 2014 study suggested Ohio experienced hundreds of small earthquakes the prior year due to fracking. Even a city in oil and gas industry-friendly Texas is shaking things up trying to put a ban on this practice.

This issue has also become a hot one in Oklahoma where statistics are showing the "rate and severity of quakes soared as the amount of water injected increased", reported the LA Times on March 2, 2016. [11] Jump across the pond to Britain where fracking opponents are also highly worried about increased seismic activity. In March 2016 it was reported the British Geological Survey is looking at high-resolution imaging to be used as a standard surveying technique prior to any fracking. [12] A fracking operation in Fox Creek, located in Alberta, Canada, was shut down by government officials in January 2016 after a 4.8 quake occurred as per rules in that region. That facility is currently closed indefinitely. [14]

In the United States, dozens of states already engage in fracking, with several other states examining the issue. Gas-rich New York has debated this issue for years, however, in summer 2014 the state's highest court ruled each town can make its own decisions of whether or not to frack by using zoning ordinances as a guideline. [5]   This was a perceived win by the opponents of hydraulic fracking.

Photos at the 2015 Stop the Frack Attack National Summit in Denver, Holiday Inn - Stapleton
Credit: Image credit:Roger Smith posted on EARTHWORKS Flickr page/CC by 2.0 https://www.flickr.com/photos/earthworks/21733133549

In late 2014 Governor Andrew Cuomo, after years of delays to make a decision, banned the practice of hydraulic fracking altogether.  Several months later the "finishing touches" were put on the ban.

“After years of exhaustive research and examination of the science and facts, prohibiting high-volume hydraulic fracturing is the only reasonable alternative,” Joe Martens, head of the Department of Environmental Conservation, said in a June 2015 statement. “High-volume hydraulic fracturing poses significant adverse impacts to land, air, water, natural resources and potential significant public health impacts that cannot be adequately mitigated.” [13]

While now banned, the issue is still divisive with proponents of fracking believe it will have a huge negative economic effect on New York.

Jump to March 2016 and the Florida senate have dropped a fracking bill in the Sunshine State, but some lawmakers say the fight isn't over yet and the issue will resurface. [10] The fracking debate is also very active in Canada as well in various regions across the United States.

On the industry side, drilling services company Baker Hughes announced in October 2014 it will disclose its "cocktail" to increase transparency. Rules for companies sharing their chemical combinations vary from country to country and from state to state. For instance, in the United States, except California, for the most part, states did not require companies to disclose. This issue is still being hotly debated in many states.

What do you think? Is fracking a good or bad idea?