Friday, 25 November 2016

Fracking Explained

            
Photo: LHSFNA

            Fracking has become the talk of the moment recently. The debates surrounding it also makes it even more controversial. It is easy to find bad stories related to fracking. According to a report by Al-Jazeera, Barnhart, a town in Texas ran out of water because of its excessive usage of the town’s water supply: 3 to 8 million gallons per frack compared to around 100,000 gallons per drill using conventional wells (Gordon, 2015). The upheaval surroundings the fracking operation in the sacred land of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has also been an important issue in this year’s U.S. election cycle. Jill Stein, a candidate from the Green Party, visited the protest site in a highlighted manner, pointing out to the lack of presence of president Obama by joining the protesters chanting “Where’s Obama?” (Wright, Watkins, 2016). The Guardian reported that some kids were given a gagging order for lifetime imposed under a settlement reached by their parents with a leading oil and gas company (Goldenberg, 2013). In terms of economic, experts argued against each other. Economists claimed that fracking might lessen the cost of oil production which will then help to ease the dependence on foreign energy source. There are also the risks that the non-production expense – cost outside direct production – such as potential environmental costs and political lobbying efforts might prove to be high enough for the industry. It is easy to get lost between those differing views. In order to fullygrasp fracking, we need to understand how it is operated and its impacts.
            Hydraulic fracturing or fracking is a method used by energy companies to extract gas and oil from shale rock. The first important things to do is to locate shale rocks which contain gas and oil. Next, companies will need to get a permit by settling the terms with the government. After the terms settled, companies will build on-site fracking wells. Fracking moves the resources from the pores of the rocks to production wells. It is done by injecting large volumes of chemical mix, mostly a substance called Brine – Sodium Cloride – down into the shale at high pressure. In order to do that, a huge amount of water needs to be transported to the site. For example, the wells extracting oil from the Haynesville Shale is estimated to use 5.7 million gallons (Nicot, Scanlon, 2012). The pressurized shale will then release the oil or gas trapped below so that it will be lifted by the well above. Lastly, the extracted resources will be transported to a refinery to be processed into use-ready energy sources and then shipped to consumers.
            Fracking could be the answer to the exorbitant trend in the rise of energy prices. For example, a study by The American Petroleum Institute shows that fracking could help reduce U.S.’s dependence on foreign oil by producing 600 trillion cubic feet – nearly 17 trillion cubic meters – of natural gas (American Petroleum Institute, 2014). By increasing production capacity, the revenue percentage of energy consumption might be allocated more towards domestic industry. Fracking could also help the economy by providing jobs. It is estimated by a conservative think tank National Bureau of Economic Research that the fracking industry could help create 640,000 jobs nationwide (Feyrer, Mansur, & Sacerdote, 2015).
            Despite such potential surplus to the economy, there are also big risks or even loss that go along with fracking. The recent plunging of oil prices might hurt the fracking industry. With oil prices standing below the breakeven point – $50 to $80 per barrel according to Fadel Gheit, a senior oil and gas analyst at Oppenheimer & Co (DiCristopher, 2016) –  at around $40 per barrel as of September 2016 (Kelly, 2016), it might prove a challenge for energy companies to expand. The area surrounding a fracking wells could also be affected negatively. A study in 2010 concluded that houses valued at more than $250,000 and within 1,000 feet of a well site saw their values decrease by 3 to 14 percent (Integra Realty Resources, 2010).
Aside from economical aspects, the case against fracking are also compelling because the use of fracking is extremely rife with environmental and safety concerns. Fracking use a lot of water compared to conventional drilling methods. It is estimated that around 3 to 8 million gallons are needed to perform one frack (ALL Consulting, 2009). Such excessive use of water might dry the surrounding region’s water supply, as shown earlier in the case of Barnhart, Texas. Fracking is also accused of causing earthquakes. The man-made phenomena are called ‘Induced Earthquakes’. The waste water from the injection process is thought to be the cause of minor induced earthquakes. A study by Southern Methodist University found that in Texas, there has been an increasing trend of earthquakes – around 2-12 events per year since 2008 -  that concentrated within a fracking wastewater disposal area (Frohlich, C. et al., 2016).
By studying how fracking works and analysing its effects, we can conclude that the true cost of fracking outweighs the reward it may bring. The high expense and unpopular opinion of fracking might prove to be too heavy for both private investor and government. Fracking in order to be a viable energy source needs to minimize risks, eliminate environmental expenses, and update its safety regulations. If those measures are not taken fast enough, fracking might be replaced by the growing renewable energy industries in the near future.

Bibliography:
ALL Consulting. (2009, April). Modern Shale Gas Development in the United States: A Primer. (pp. 80-81). Retrieved September 25, 2016, from http://energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2013/03/f0/ShaleGasPrimer_Online_4-2009.pdf
American Petroleum Institute. (2014, July). Fracturing: Unlocking America’s Natural Gas Resources. (p. 2). Retrieved September 24, 2016, from http://www.api.org/~/media/files/policy/exploration/hydraulic_fracturing_primer.ashx
DiChristopher, T. (2016, January 11). Half of US shale drillers may go bankrupt: Analyst. Retrieved September 27, 2016, from http://www.cnbc.com/2016/01/11/half-of-us-shale-drillers-may-go-bankrupt-oppenheimers-gheit.html
Feyrer, J., Mansur, E., & Sacerdote, B. (2015, October). Geographic Dispersion of Economic Shocks: Evidence from the Fracking Revolution. (p. 4). Retrieved September 24, 2016, from http://www.nber.org/papers/w21624
Frohlich, C., Deshon, H., Stump, B., Hayward, C., Hornbach, M., & Walter, J. I. (2016, July/August). A Historical Review of Induced Earthquakes in Texas. Seismological Research Letters. (p. 2). Retrieved from http://www.smu.edu/~/media/Site/News/NewsSources/EarthquakeStudy/earthquake-study-17may2016.ashx?la=en
Goldenberg, S. (2013, August 05). Children given lifelong ban on talking about fracking. Retrieved September 27, 2016, from https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/aug/05/children-ban-talking-about-fracking
Gordon, C. (2013, October 15). What happens when the wells run dry in West Texas? Retrieved September 27, 2016, from http://america.aljazeera.com/watch/shows/america-tonight/america-tonight-blog/2013/10/15/west-texas-what-happenswhenthewellsrundry.html
Integra Realty Resources. (2010, August). Flower Mound Drill Site Study. (p. 9). Retrieved September 26, 2016, from http://www.flower-mound.com/DocumentCenter/View/1456
Kelly, E. (2016, September 23). Market Update: Oil Crumbles After Saudis Pull the Plug. Retrieved September 27, 2016, from http://oilprice.com/Energy/Energy-General/Market-Update-Oil-Crumbles-After-Saudis-Pull-The-Plug.html
Nicot, J., & Scanlon, B. R. (2012, March 1). Environmental Science & Technology: Water Use for Shale-Gas Production in Texas, US, 3. Retrieved September 27, 2016, from http://www.beg.utexas.edu/staffinfo/Scanlon_pdf/Nicot Scanlon_ES&T_12_SI.pdf

Wright, D., & Watkins, E. (2016, September 7). Stein charged with mischief, trespassing after environmental protest. Retrieved September 27, 2016, from http://edition.cnn.com/2016/09/07/politics/jill-stein-pipeline-protest-trespassing-charges/

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