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Frack or Fiction

Posted By Guest Submission: Makenzie Senter, Monday, January 16, 2017
Updated: Thursday, January 19, 2017

Undergraduate student Makenzie Senter is a student at Kent State University. Senter wrote a persuasive paper on hydraulic fracturing for a college writing class. The post below has been shortened from its original version.

Fracking has been used for over 65 years, despite what most people think since it is prominent in the news now more than ever. Without fracking, energy abundance in America, along with all of its benefits, would not exist. One of the major benefits from fracking is natural gas being released in an abundant, clean manner. Fracking gives us natural gas as a source of reliable energy on days that the sun does not shine (for solar panels) or the wind does not blow (for wind mills).

When talking to people between the ages of 18-30, many of them had little to no knowledge on what hydraulic fracturing or fracking was, or what we get from fracking. According to EnergyFromShale.org fracking involves safely tapping shale and other tight-rock formations by drilling a mile or more below the surface before gradually turning horizontal and continuing several thousand feet more. Once the well is drilled, cased and cemented, small perforations are made in the horizontal portion of the well pipe, through which a typical mixture of 90% water, 9.5% sand, and 0.5% additives is pumped at high pressure to create micro-fractures in the rock that are held open by grains of sand. Additives play several roles, including helping reduce friction (thereby reducing the amount of pumping pressure from diesel-powered sources, which reduces air emissions) and prevent pipe corrosion, which in turn help protect the environment and boost well efficiency. Fracking is the single biggest reason that America is experiencing a revolution in energy right now and giving us an abundance of natural energy. Fracking is letting us get into vast oil and natural gas reserves that were previously unattainable, locked away in shale and other tight-rock formations.

A new study published by the National Academy of Sciences states that fracking is safe. The National Science Foundation and Duke University funded a team of scientists at other universities including Ohio State, to do research on if there is a link between groundwater pollution and fracking. The study examined 130 wells and concluded that no groundwater or aquifer pollution resulted from fracking. Among the 130 wells that were studied and observed, only a few cases were found to have any sort of water contamination at all. There were seven wells in Pennsylvania and one in Texas that had any contamination. However, the water contamination was due to faults in well construction. Professor Avner Bengosh of Duke University states, “these results appear to rule out the migration of methane up in to drinking water aquifers from depth because of horizontal drilling or fracturing”.

Many of these studies answer the most important question, proving without a doubt that fracking itself does not cause gas to seep into the water supply, however it does not answer other important questions. One of the questions is whether there is a frequency of contamination of water supplies by naturally occurring petroleum, methane, and other gases. Natural pollution of this kind is extremely common and is a natural process that has been occurring for many millennia. There were sites where petroleum seeped to the surface, such as in the 19th century Drake oil field in Pennsylvania. Native Americans had made use of the oily substance as a lubricant for thousands of years. Since that oil was naturally coming to the surface, it was “contaminating” nearby streams and groundwater.

Also, at thousands of hot springs and other sites, methane and other gases, including ammonia and helium, are released naturally into the environment, the most famous example is Yellowstone National Park. The release of methane from the ocean floor is also a prevalent feature of the natural environment. In comparison with these widespread and perennial sources of methane contamination, the amount of gas released by faulty oil and gas wells is miniscule. Expectantly, there will be a study in the future that will show the ratio of man-made to natural release of gases to show just how small the number really is.

Even if the oil industry achieved 100% safety with the construction of casing and cement walls or even if they stopped fracking all together, there would still be massive amounts of methane and other “polluting” gases that would seep into groundwater as a result of natural processes.

According to a study by the University of Cincinnati, the quality of water was not in any way influenced by natural gas drilling or fracking. The study was kick-started by Duke University when they did a peer-reviewed study to answer the question “Tapping a Valuable Resource or Invading the Environment? Research Examines the Start of Fracking in Ohio” To answer this question, researchers set out to collect samples over a three-year period. The samples were collected four times a year from five different counties in Ohio that were known for their shale. They collected from 23 water wells from 2012-2015, totaling 191 samples. The samples were taken from volunteers, which many, ironically, were connected with anti-fracking groups such as the Carroll County Concerned Citizens. 

Although the study claims it was not taking funding from groups who opposed fracking, Dr. Townsend, who was part of the study, said “I’m really sad to say this but some of our funders, the groups that had given us funding in the past, were a little disappointed in our results. They feel that fracking is scary and so they were hoping our data could point to a reason to ban it”. What I take away from what Dr. Townsend said is that these anti-fracking groups were not particularly interested in making sure that fracking was safe, but they were trying to find a reason to rid the oil and gas developments altogether. However, after the 2011 Duke study failed, the University of Cincinnati was given a $400,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to get to the root of the problem: what was causing the water contamination?

After the multi-year study, and evident water contamination in Flint, Michigan, as well as Sebring, Ohio, conclusions were made that the contamination was caused by ageing infrastructure issues and pre-existing water quality issues from naturally occurring methane. There was no evidence of fracking or natural gas drilling contaminating the water. Since fracking is safe for the water, it has been observed that it is also safe for the environment. Per the Energy Information Administration, they estimate that the total U.S. gas production between 2012 and 2040 will increase 56%, with natural gas from shale being the biggest contributor. EnergyFromShale.org says, “The shale gas share of total U.S. production will increase from 40% in 2012 to 53% in 2040.” That basically means that fracking is the basis of the U.S. energy revolution.

Overall, fracking is not only safe, but it is also beneficial to our economy. Fracking, itself, does not cause any sort of pollution to groundwater. The only reason, proven through studies, that there would be any sort of leakage or pollution is through faulty well construction, which is obviously a fixable flaw. Not only is fracking safe, but it is also creating jobs and boosting the economy. Prices of gasoline are lower than they have been in years and consumers are paying less for natural gas. The United States is also slowly but surely becoming the leader of oil production and has been the leader of natural gas production. In conclusion, fracking should be more widely accepted since it is safe and helping boost our economy.

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