In an age where oil dominates world economies, the search for alternative forms of fuel has become more of a concern than perhaps ever before. One such option is found in underground reserves of natural gas. There are several methods of extracting natural gas from the earth, each with their own pros and cons, but hydraulic fracturing (fracking) has recently gained the most international attention. Large reserves of natural gas are believed to be trapped in shale throughout North America, and many other parts of the world. Fracking is a technique that allows the gas to reach the surface for collection, by breaking through the rock with high-pressure fluids. The growing popularity of this process has positioned fracking as a key in the progression away from coal fuels, but controversy has arisen about the potential harm of the technology, and if these risks are balanced by the potential benefits (Colborn et al. 1039).
At the present, petroleum fuels essentially make the world run, and it has become exceedingly expensive as reserves lessen (and while international oil powers squeeze every last coin out of consumers). Finding alternative sources of fuel has become a necessity, and hydraulic fracturing allows interested parties to obtain a vast amount of natural gas. While fracking for natural gas does not bode well as a permanent solution to the fuel crisis (discussed below), the technology could certainly play an important role in obtaining a transitional source of energy.
Critics of hydraulic fracturing have several points of argument in opposition of the technique. During the fracking process, a fluid is forced through rock and other barriers under an extreme amount of pressure, thus weakening the underground support system, and raising the risk of cave-ins. Creating a sinkhole can be disastrous for local ecosystems just from the physical loss of resources, but it may also allow natural gas to escape into the atmosphere. The potential fuel is also a greenhouse gas, meaning that it stops heat/light/energy from escaping through the atmosphere, thus raising the temperature of the planet within. Accordingly, any leaks as a result of hydraulic fracturing, directly or indirectly, could be devastating to the environment.
The nature of the fluid used to create a path to the gas reservoirs is also a topic of much debate. The liquid is commonly claimed to be mostly comprised of water, with other chemicals amounting to only a fractional percentage of the total solution. Still, the combination of these additional substances is not consistent, nor are the potential effects of varying mixes clearly understood. Similarly, the vast water usage that is required for fracking is a potential threat of which the full extent is not yet apparent.
As mentioned above, the use of hydraulic fracturing holds the potential to be the key tool in accessing important sources of natural gas, but this prime benefit may also prove to be the most damaging aspect of the process. The human race has already shown a propensity for developing a dependence on whatever source of fuel is most popular. Natural gas could easily be mistaken as a permanent solution to the oil situation, which would prove to be a fatal error in the addiction recovery process. Natural gas, like coal-based fuel, is not a renewable source of energy. Should this fact be forgotten, the fuel will eventually prove to be prone to the same problems as those currently being experienced due to oil markets. Even if fracking is determined to be environmentally acceptable, which requires further research, the harnessing of renewable energy resources must remain the most important goal.
Colborn, Theo, et al. “Natural gas operations from a public health perspective.” Human and
Ecological Risk Assessment: An International Journal 17.5 (2011): 1039-1056.