Fracking otherwise known as hydraulic fracturing, is one of the most controversial industries in Australia today. As the industry has been well established in the USA for over a decade now, we’re able to analyze their experiences to weigh up the pros and cons of this method of extracting natural gas.
Fracking is a mining technique used to extract gas and shale deposits. While the rest of the world was looking for new ways to mine deposits, utilize alternative energies, and source untapped resources; hydraulic fracturing was born. It differs vastly from traditional mining methods. So just why is this particular industry so controversial? Let’s review the negatives of hydraulic fracturing first.
Fracking Wells dot the landscape of Northern NSW, Australia.
A large environmental concern with fracking is that it uses huge amounts of water that needs to be transported to the mine site at significant costs. This water is then contaminated with a multitude of toxic chemicals.
People worry that hazardous chemicals used during the process will escape and contaminate the earth deep below the ground, getting into places where they can cause damage to groundwater and drinking water supplies, wildlife and the environment in general.
Many people also believe that this intrusive method of extraction disturbs the earth’s seismic lines and can cause minor earthquakes. Due to the fact that the mechanism for earthquakes is not fully understood yet, this is a real possibility. In fact, several renowned scientist have linked a rise in earthquakes to corresponding fracking activity.
“Detailed investigations of two seismic sequences places them in proximity to high-volume, high-injection-rate wells, and both sequences occurred after a nearby increase in the rate of injection.” This particular study’s accompanying press release noted “A comparison between seismicity and wastewater injection in Colorado and New Mexico reveals similar patterns, suggesting seismicity is initiated shortly after an increase in injection rates.”
For more information on the problems that can arise from fracking take a look at the award-winning US documentary called Gasland. Here is the trailer:
What are the Benefits of Fracking?
It’s hard to look past the monetary benefit of hydraulic fracturing. That is the main reason for any mining and the driving of this industry behemoth.
Can a balance be achieved, or is it just all about profit with total disregard for the environment? Industry experts maintain that contamination will only occur due to bad mining practice and if all protocols are followed there should not be a problem. Studies have yet to be done to determine how often this actually occurs. However there are numerous account of people who can light the water coming out of their home faucets on fire due to gas contamination of their water supply. This has happened in the USA in many areas close to fracking well and whole neighbourhoods of people have become ill due to exposure to the contaminants used in the hydraulic fracturing process.
A Standford led study reviewed the real costs and benefits of fracking. Ultimately, the study found that an increase in natural gas could be beneficial for the environment, as demand for coal would fall. However, this practice is really detrimental to the residents of the local area. “We could do better” the study said. Fracking puts trillions of dollars worth of natural gas within grasp. When this kind of money is involved, history has shown that the wellbeing of locals doesn’t play all that big of a factor in decision making. Large corporations focused on profit maximization do not have time for environmental concerns it seems.
So alongside the economic benefits of fracking and a reduction of the need for coal, what else is there?
Related to the economic benefits, is job creation. The hydraulic fracturing industry is directly responsible for the employment of tens of thousands of people across the nation, and hundreds of thousands across the globe. These people are paid a high average wage due to the lucrative nature of this industry, but is mother nature the one paying the ultimate price?
Economical and job creation benefits are certainly there, but apart from these and the monetary incentive, no other benefits can be found. Not to say these should be ignored, but it does appear as though the fracking industry is motivated purely by profit with limited regard given to the numerous, long-lasting and detrimental effects the practice has on the environment.
With curren technology, there is no other way to extract these gas and shale reserves. Perhaps this will change in the future, but for the short term benefits, is it worth it?
There are many alternative fuel types, some are viable whilst others are too costly to produce on a larger scale. It is human nature to take the easiest path and also the most profitable, in this case fracking is no exception. We hope that the technology of renewable sources of energy catch up in profitability to the more crude tried and tested forms of mining such as fracking. Until such time comes however the only thing standing in the way of the hydraulic fracturing companies are activist movements like Lock The Gate, which has been very successful in keeping hydraulic fracturing to a minimum around certain areas of Australia.