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The problem with fracking (part 1)

Fracking is directly responsible for a 47 percent decrease in natural gas prices.
However, fracking produces methane, and certain groups are concerned that it will escape through leaks in natural gas infrastructures.

When the concept of fracking was first introduced in the early 1900s, it seemed like a good idea. From an economic standpoint, the United States has enjoyed a 47 percent drop in natural gas prices; other countries have experienced cost reductions as well. 

Related: New guidelines for hydraulic fracturing

Government officials were happy, business owners were happy and consumers were happy—and then voices were raised to contend it; to stop it. Claims were made that it caused flammable water, which contaminated the soil and drinking water, and a controversy was born.

With both sides adamantly demanding that they are right, it begs the question: What’s wrong with fracking?

No, really: What’s wrong with it?

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a method used to recover oil and gas from shale rock. It involves drilling deep into the earth, then directing a high pressure mixture of 98.5 percent water, 1 percent sand and 0.5 percent chemical additives at the rock, thus fracturing it to release the gas and allowing it to flow to the well head. 

Related: American majors opt out of European corporation-led request to UN for help on climate change

The drilling is typically done horizontally but sometimes vertically to reach the rock layer. While it is often used to create new pathways for natural gas, it may also be used to extend channels that already exist inside the rock.

The earliest recorded well fracking was in 1947. Since that time, it has gained popularity and garnered a great deal of controversy. 

As with all controversies, both sides think that they are right—so we are going to address the five top arguments head-on, separating fact from fiction.

Argument #1: Fracking will worsen climate change
Fracking produces methane and certain groups are concerned that it will escape through leaks in natural gas infrastructures.

Methane has been linked to climate change because when it is emitted into the atmosphere it traps a tremendous amount of heat—in excess of 20 times more over a 100-year period than carbon dioxide. 

Related: Frozen and the State Department: How Elsa could fight climate change

Environmental activists have latched onto this, using it in their arguments to ban fracking.

To get the full story, though, you have to look at the whole picture.

A 2013 study conducted by the University of Texas at Austin reported on a series of extensive measurements that were taken at various points of the fracking process, including right at the well pad.

Related: How will the energy landscape change after EPAs new emissions rule?

These measurements were taken at 190 fracking sites located throughout the U.S., with access allowed by nine different energy companies that agreed had to participate.

Results from the study showed that the equipment installed at most of the wells had successfully reduced methane emissions by 99 percent. When juxtaposed with methane emissions estimates (released by the EPA in April 2013) in the 2011 calendar year, the emissions during this study were 97 percent lower.

Next in the series: [Video] The "problems" with fracking (part 2)


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Editor's note: This article first appeared in the August 2015 edition of Energy Digital magazine. Click here to read the complete piece. 



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