gas-meterMention the words “hydro-fracturing”, “hydro-fracking”, or “fracking” in conversation today, especially in southeastern Ohio and chances are you’ll get plenty of people interested in what you have to say, as well as sharing a few opinions of their own- always in a very polite manner of course.

The debate is an important one, and one that everyone needs to take part in. While a complete treatise is beyond the scope of this short blog post, I hope to detail a few of the benefits, and drawbacks to the use of hydro-fracturing.

The Benefits

At it’s core, the benefits of using hydro-fracturing to access natural gas and oil are primarily economic in nature. The Marcellus and Utica shales that dominate much of the strata of eastern Ohio hold trapped within in it significant natural gas reserves that can help alleviate some of power consumption needs of the state as well as most of the country. The extraction of the natural gas also means the potential for significant job growth in the area. In fact, it is estimated by the year 2020, approximately 2-4{5b6c00ae8a31f44c65b344f315968efbd322bfc6ea45e4e8cca9716c4473fad8} will be added to the American GDP by the process of fracking alone, and twice as many jobs will be created than what car manufacturing provides now.

Proponents of hydro-fracturing also state that this method can provide a source of energy that is relatively clean, inexpensive, and most notably in today’s world, without political complications. Having access to more natural gas also gives Americans a way to wean ourselves of the dependence of more “dirty” fuels such as coal. Also, because of the relative ease of set up and dismantling, the whole process of getting things up and running smoothly can take weeks- instead of the years it may take for traditional oil extraction methods.

The Drawbacks

Of course, the potential drawbacks from hydro-fracturing are no less meaningful, or demonstrative in nature. While the benefits of this method of extraction are mainly economic in nature, the downside of it has proven to impact the environment and if ancedotal stories are to be believed, the health and well being of the people of the country.

Throughout areas where hydro-fracturing has become commonplace, people have reported contamination in potable water wells, livestock dying or becoming sickly, and many have pointed out that the disposal of waste water from the fracking process- sometimes millions of gallons per well can be extremely problematic. In fact, many times the waste water which contains at a minimum a mixture of laundry detergent chemicals, gelatin, and sometimes various petro-chemicals is pumped back into the surrounding ground because other treatment methods are simply not cost effective, or not available. In fact, a recent study of a new rash of earthquakes in the state of Oklahoma linked at least one of them—which measured 5.7 on the Richter scale was directly connected to such a practice.

In addition to the potential for groundwater contamination through waste water disposal, opponents also point out that there are so many different places where things could go wrong in the process. The steel casing of the well, or the concrete sealant could be faulty. The chemicals used in the fracking fluids could migrate into the groundwater system through newly created fissures and affect plant-life and animal life in time. Or, the fracturing itself could possibly trigger earthquakes, causing significant damages to the local businesses. Finally many opponents also point out that like oil or coal, natural gas is still a finite resource. It will run out. Perhaps not in this current generation, but it will be depleted. When it is depleted, along with the rest of the fossil fuels, what will be do then?

The debate concerning hydro-fracturing will probably continue for quite some time, and it is one that needs to occur. Here are a few additional sources of information to help the discussion continue:

The Economist

Transcript of PFAW.ORG Meeting Waste Water Injection Spurred Biggest Earthquake

Clear Water.Org Hydrofracking