The geologic formations sometimes contains large pools of oil and/or gas but may have a poor flow rate due to clogging or low permeability of the formation during drilling and occurs in laces that have tight sands, shale’s or places that have methane formations. To extract the mineral deposits in such places, hydraulic fracturing/cracking or fracking process is used since it has the capability of stimulating wells drilled into the mineral formation locations thus enabling the extraction of oil or gas economically. Hydraulic fracturing is therefore a well stimulation technique that enables a rock to be fractured by hydraulically pressured liquid that comprises of water sand and other chemicals into a wellbore to create cracks that allow gas and other natural gases to flow freely and easily towards the collection point. The science behind the fracking process occurs after wells have been drilled and steel pipe inserted in the well bore. The steel case piping is perforates within the targeted oil/gas zones such that when the fracturing fluid is injected into the well, it flows through the perforations into the targeted zones where pressure is created that causes the formation to crack/fracture, after which injection is ceased allowing the fracturing fluid to flow back to the surface. The fractures may also be created by injecting gases like propane or nitrogen causing acidizing and fracturing where acid is pumped into the formation to dissolve rock materials and to clean the pores to enable gas or oil to flow better into the wells.
Economic analysis of fracking
Some costs associated with fracking include the large amount of water required to crack a single well and the toxic chemicals that have to be pumped into the rock formations to crack the surface. Fracking also produces greenhouse gases which affects the environment negatively. There has been reported tectonic impact of the disposal wells that lead to minor earthquakes in the nearby settlements. This is disastrous as it may lead to loss of lives and destruction of buildings. Water contamination cannot be avoided as a result of fracking.
Since the advent of fracking, gas prices have lowered comparatively because of the competitive nature of the natural gas. One of the benefits associated with natural gas is that it produces less carbon dioxide and less sulfur dioxide which leads to multiple health problems. Green house emission have also been reported to have decreased as a result of the fracturing. Before the advent of the shale gas, importation of the gas would have been inevitable, thus increasing the cost of the product to the consumer. Natural gas can be burned to produce electricity that is cheaper and cleaner than coal (Wicander & Monroe, 2015). Upon the extraction of the hydraulic fracturing, a lot of employment opportunities are availed to the many unemployed Americans. This in effects uplifts the living standards of the population and reduces the burden of government support to the unemployed. At the same time, fracking has helped accelerate the growth of the energy sector thus increasing the annual GDP by over $300 billion annually (Gilbert, 2011). Steady production of oil can be deduced from the undertaking thus reducing the import capacity costs.
Though hydraulic fracturing is one of the key methods that are used to extract unconventional gases and other natural gas resources, it poses various risks, both to the human being and the environment/habitats. Some of these issues that impact the environment includes the water usage, chemical usage, pollution, effect on the air among other effects.
According to a 2010 survey that was carried out by the US Environmental Protection Agency, it was estimated that between 70 and 140 billion gallons of water were used to fracture 35000 wells every year. This is equivalent to the annual water consumption of 40 – 80 cities whose population is 50,000. The extraction of such amount of water has ecological impact in that it affects the aquatic life as well as the aspect of dewatering the water aquifers. At the same time, the water transportation modes (trucks) affects the habitat by creating a localized air quality and road maintenance issues (Spellman, 2013). It should be noted that these gas and oil wells use large quantities of sand and proppants that leads top excess water consumption and air pollution. Health problems may also arise that relates to crystalline silica.
During the extraction of the unconventional minerals and shale gas, a lot of toxic chemicals are used that amount to approximately 0.5-2% of the volume of the fracturing fluids. The more the water used, the more the toxic gas implying that the toxic fluid are a health hazard to human, animals and plants. Some of these chemicals cause incurable diseases including cancer (Spellman, 2013). These chemicals pollutes the water underground, thus affecting the aquatic life as well as the air and drinking water. Any human being that get exposed to the fracking chemicals are likely to have health effects including skin, eye and sensory issues, respiratory and gastrointestinal problems, cardiovascular problems, kidney issues among many other health concerns (Howarth, Ingraffea & Engelder, 2011).
There also exists the contamination of soil and surface water during waste disposal and chemical injection and preparation. The ground water which may have coal bends containing enough water for drinking may become contaminated as a result. Of concern is the chemical component that is left in the underground after fracturing is done. This may lead to water contamination for many years to come. The air quality is also compromised as a result of chemical toxicity near the wells due to flow backs and during injection.
Hurdles to regulating fracking
The state regulations have enabled the extraction of the unconventional gas to operate safely and in an environmental friendly manner. Stiff measures including fines and other punitive measures have been put in place to prevent companies undertaking fracturing from destroying the environment. Ground water protection agencies have been formed to address possible pollution to the waters and each state has been mandated to disclose chemicals used in fracturing. Waste management commissions have also been formed to ensure safe disposal of the waste products resulting from the fracking activities.
Effect of the energy markets since the advent of fracking
The advent of fracking has increased the competition in the energy sector in the United States. In particular, the prices of energy/gas has decreased considerably and its increase has led US into being self-sufficient thus limiting their imports. The US market has now become an exporter of gas and coals that it no longer need. At the same time, as a result, the regulatory framework has changed to accommodate fracturing.
The future role of natural gas and shale oil in the energy markets
Possible statistics depicts a positive trend in the production of shale gas. In the future, it is expected that the fractured gas will play a major role in the energy sector in the United States. It is expected that about 42% of the total US gas will emanate from the unconventional gas production. At the same time, the demand for the natural gas will be expected to increase and many parties will volunteer to work towards the exploration of the natural gas that will help supply the nation for many years to come. Finally, I is expected that the low natural gas and oil prices will help improve the energy sector by increasing the firms fueled by the cheap natural gas. The continued production of the natural oil will enable US to be self-sufficient in oil production and will help the country export surplus to other countries
Policy recommendation and course of action on fracking
Approximately 300,000 barrels of natural gas are produced each day through the process of hydraulic fracking. This is a good economic undertaking, but it succeeds at the expenses of environmental, safety as well as health hazard. This being the case, it is important for all the concerned authorities to address the issue and come up with strategies that could exploit these minerals without destroying the future. With the rising ozone degradation, the environment has to be protected under whatever cost. The extracting companies ought to liaise with the relevant bodies as they undertake their fracturing processes. Strategically, regulations should be put in place so that the companies undertaking the fracturing report and disclose promptly the type of chemical’s being used and the effect on the environment. The use of nontoxic chemicals ought to be encouraged including nontoxic deliveries. At the same time, the government and the federal bodies should ensure that the disposal of the waste water that contains chemicals is done appropriately. In this, toxic waste treatment facilities should be created that concentrate all waste products in a given place for efficient disposal. Strategies to recycle waste water to be used for re-drilling should also be put in place. All in all, the government should aim at ensuring transparency in hydraulic fracturing and should put measures in place that help identify the processes and effects of the hydraulic fracturing process.
Gilbert, J. R. (2011). Assessing the Risks and Benefits of Hydraulic Fracturing. Mo. Envtl. L. & Pol’y Rev., 18, 170-208.
Howarth, R. W., Ingraffea, A., & Engelder, T. (2011). Natural gas: Should fracking stop?. Nature, 477(7364), 271-275.
Spellman, F. R. (2013). Environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.
Wicander, R., & Monroe, J. (2015). Historical geology. Cengage Learning.