Nathaniel Mowell Hydro-fracking Debate Paper Hydraulic fracturing, often called hydro-fracking, is a method of extracting natural gas from shale and other porous rocks. Essentially a well is drilled down to the gas containing rocks, then a slurry of water, sand, and a mixture of chemicals called “fracking fluid” is forced at high pressures down the well into the rock. This mixture fractures the rock, creating passageways for the natural gas to escape to the surface, where it is collected. This technique has existed for about one hundred years, but was not an economically viable option. But, advances in drilling technologies and fracking practices, discoveries of vast natural gas reserves, and the ever rising cost of fuel sources has caused hydro-fracking to become a very competitive means of energy production into which many oil and gas companies are investing millions of dollars. But, mirroring the growth of the hydro-fracking industry is the growth of concern over its practices, which has ultimately led to a large scale debate between proponents of hydro-fracking and those opposed to it. Both sides of the debate have very legitimized claims, many of which center around not only scientific evidence but also fundamental beliefs, causing hydro-fracking to be a touchy issue that tends to polarize people. Furthermore all of the issues are sweeping societal issues with complex, interconnected systems further complicating the debate. Those supporting hydro-fracking center most of their argument around economics, societal needs, and national energy independence while those opposed to fracking cite environmental and health issues, other economic ideas, and sustainability questions for their opposition. Those who support hydro-fracking, who often find themselves aligned with the oil and gas companies, have many strong claims for the benefits of expanding hydraulic fracturing operations. One of the strongest claims is for energy independence. There are vast energy needs in America, a fact that is irrefutable, and a figure that is ever increasing. Meeting these energy needs often tends to be problematic for the United States; reliance upon countries who have oil can jeopardize our economic and social well being, wars over oil are excessively costly and unfavorable with the public, generally placing control of our energy in the hands of another country is not wise. Hydro-fracking provides domestic energy where we would control the supply, prices, and profits, something that would benefit an energy-hungry public, shareholders in oil and gas companies, and Americans looking for a cheap energy source. Another strong pro-fracking argument is that in the current tough economic times fracking will not only produce a source of income for oil and gas companies, thereby strengthening the economy as a whole, but it will also provide jobs and bolster economies of regions containing natural gas. These regions are often rural regions into which the fracking industry would bring jobs as well as consumers, all of which would greatly improve the local economies. Finally, there are the myriad of social benefits hydro-fracking addresses. Global warming is an issue, and while natural gas isn’t perfect it is much more environmentally friendly that either coal or gasoline; natural gas releases far less carbon dioxide and contains significantly lower levels of poisonous chemicals such as lead, mercury. Essentially proponents claim that hydro-fracking will help lead to an energy independent America, with a strengthened economy, that is more environmentally friendly. Those opposed to hydro-frackig have just as many strong reasons as to why hydro-fracking should not be expanded. The strongest anti-fracking claims come from environmental concerns. The oil and gas companies are notoriously rough on the environment, and their practices for hydro-fracking tend to be even rougher. Projects tend to significantly change the environmental landscape in which they occur, but even more devastating is the pollution associated with fracking. The fracking fluid, which is vital to gas extraction, contains an assortment of chemicals, many of which are known toxins and carcinogens. Not only are these chemicals pumped into the ground, but after fracking is complete they are stored in massive, open holding trenches where they are able to evaporate into the air and leach into the soil. Much of the anti-fracking argument centers around the effects fracking has on the environment, the effect these chemicals have on human health, and that fracking is a relatively new technology where accidents are prone to occur. The anti-fracking stance also draws from economic ideas. Fracking is often shown to be detrimental to a community economically in the long term, it is often stated that booms experienced by natural gas communities wear off quickly and leave the community more desolate then they were before the oil companies moved in. Finally, opponents of fracking claim that it is not a sustainable energy practice, that there are much more environmentally friendly options that need to be implemented instead of natural gas if the environment is to be saved. An article by Jon Hurdle published by the Reuters News service clearly displays the claims supporting expanding hydro-fracking into Pennsylvania. The article focuses heavily upon the economic climate surrounding hydro-fracking. Hurdle describes in his article how a relatively impoverished and struggling rural community was transformed by the boom provided by the natural gas companies. The gas companies are not only providing jobs for local citizens, but are also drawing experienced gas and oil workers to the region. Local railway companies, hotels, and just about every sector are seeing vastly greater business, needing to expand and hire to meet the new demand. “Business has picked up at gas stations, auto repair shops, restaurants, realtors, and even the local movie theater, said Coolidge, adding, "I have seen so many businesses that it has touched in a positive way” (Hurdle). Local farmers are now able to sell their land, or the rights to the gas under their land, for amounts never before imaginable. The main focus of the article is upon the much stronger state of the local economy after the gas company has moved into the region, with nearly no mention upon anything else. Now, the claims made in this article are true, in some angles, but it is in no way a complete analysis of the topic. Yes, there will be improvements to the local economy, but many of these affects are short term, seen as a boom, and will not last indefinitely. While this arguably is still good for the local economy it is not nearly as beneficial as the article makes it seem. Also, no other issues are adequately addressed; in total there are two sentences that show a potentially negative aspect of fracking. There is a quote from a resident saying she was sad as she “watched a constant stream of gas-industry trucks and mud-spattered pickups grind past her town-center office” (Hurdle). But these misgivings are quickly dismissed with the claim that “those worries are outweighed by the new gas money” (Hurdle). Clearly Mr. Hurdle is only displaying one viewpoint of one aspect of the fracking debate. In general many of the flaws in the pro-fracking stance were displayed in the article. They focus heavily upon the short term economic benefits while not looking at other factors such as sustainability, either economically or environmentally. Numbers representing job growth are often misleading because many of those jobs are temporary jobs associated with start up that may only last a few months. Also there are costs to the community that are never adequately represented by the affirmative side. The health risks associated with the fracking fluid are almost never displayed; while there is a growing body of evidence that shows that people in fracking regions are growing sick this information is never addressed or discussed when presenting a pro-fracking argument. When environmental issues are discussed, which is seldom, they are quickly dismissed as the cost of making profits off of fracking, as was done in Hurdle’s article. An article that took the opposing stance, and was staunchly anti-fracking, was that posed by Peter Rothberg in The Nation. In this article hydro-fracking was shown as an environmentally horrific process with absolutely no benefits. Rothberg cites, and provides an excerpt, of the anti-fracking documentary Gasland, further solidifying the one sidedness of his article. Throughout the article he talk about the process of fracking and how it leads to “…fracking liquid, now infused not only with the chemical additives but heavy metals and radioactive material as well. The problem is that these materials are leaching into our water supplies, sickening people, vegetation and animals” (Rothberg). He continues to mention negative aspects of fracking, including the deregulation of the industry and how this allowed “toxic streams, ruined aquifers, dying livestock, brutal illnesses, and kitchen sinks that burst into flame” (Rothberg). He closes the article by urging citizens to take action against fracking and provides links to organizations trying to halt the spread of fracking into New York and Pennsylvania. In general his article focuses upon the health and environmental issues associated with fracking, claiming that fracking will inevitably lead to sickness and environmental distruction. Clearly, there are many issues with this article, and it was wholly one sided. It addressed only the environmental impacts of fracking, and did so without citing anything. Claims were made that people were becoming sick and fracking was to blame, but no evidence was provided to substantiate these claims. Furthermore no other issues were addressed nor were any of the benefits of fracking or natural gas even mentioned. These are the general issues associated with the anti-fracking side; unsubstantiated claims are often made as to the severity of environmental and health risks of fracking. Often those opposed to fracking will draw on correlations between drilling sites and incidences of sickness and cancer, but they often have a very difficult time proving that it is fracking alone that causes these issues. While the claim that fracking has severe environmental and health risks is a very easy one to make, proving this claim with any hard scientific fact is often very difficult. Also, the negative side often states that natural gas is not an environmentally friendly solution; it is no wind, solar or geothermal solution. But, they do nothing to address the issues that it is cleaner than the coal and gasoline which is currently used, and that if looked at as a “bridge fuel” from coal to renewable sources it is a pretty decent option. Generally those opposed to fracking take a stance that natural gas is not the best option environmentally, and therefore should not be used, ignoring the fact that natural gas is more environmentally friendly than the fuel sources that are currently used. Finally, there are some flaws in the economic claims of the anti-fracking side. Basically, the economic argument of the anti-fracking side is that fracking supports a capitalistic system of booms and busts, and is not the best most sustainable economic system out there. This is true, there are serious inherent flaws in capitalism, and in the increase of hydro-fracking. But, the anti-fracking viewpoint fails to take into account that we are a capitalistic society, where booms are good for the economy. While it is true that jobs may not stay in regions that drill for natural gas and that there are sustainability issues with a consumption-based society, it forgets that those are inherent flaws in the system, not in hydro-fracking alone. The claim that hydro-fracking is bad for the economy centers around an idealistic view of economics and society, not the system that we have in place. If you look at the capitalistic, consumption driven society that actually exists (as opposed to an ideal society) hydro-frakcing will have a positive impact upon the economy. A final article upon fracking is that of Philip Guelpa published on the World Socialist Web Site. As one can assume from the site upon which the article is published it takes a rather anti-Industry, anti- fracking view, but does so with a lot of substantiation of its points. This causes it to be a much stronger argument than the previous anti-fracking article. Environmental discussions are explained with statistics such as, “The water came from two gas wells in Tioga County [Pennsylvania] and contained radium at almost 700 times the levels allowed in drinking water.” The industry classifies this as recycling” (Guelpa). Similar numbers and explanations are given for other examples. This provides a rather compelling argument against fracking based on environmental terms. The article does not do a good job at addressing other issues such as the economics associated with fracking, but, by substantiating all of the claims made for environmental arguments as well as other claims such as flawed political and policy sectors it was a much more compelling piece. Despite that the article had a very one sided view, it was compelling because of how it was able to back up the claims it made with strong arguments as well as evidence and facts. Overall I am rather mixed on the issue of hydro-fracking. On one hand there are clear environmental and health risks of fracking. Even if these claims are hard to prove there is more than enough correlation and evidence to show that there are serious issues. But natural gas is a source of fuel that is domestic and environmentally cleaner than the current coal and gasoline. True, it is not the best alternative out there, but it is cleaner than the status quo, and could provide a “bridge” as we build towards a future of renewable solar, tidal, and geothermal energy. The economic argument gives me the most issue however. On the one hand I see from the readings and discussions that consumption and consumerism are extremely bad, and unsustainable. From this viewpoint hydro-fracking only supports the current system and continues the disillusioned view we hold of sustainability. But, on the other hand we have a capitalistic, consuming society, not an ideal society. For the society that we have hydro-fracking is economically good. It provides a boom, full of jobs, capital, and earnings. So I would say that even though fracking is a negative in an ideal economy it is a positive in ours. And I guess this is how I stand overall. While fracking is not the best option, and it is full of pitfalls, it fits the system we have in place. If companies responsibly deal with fracking, ensuring that they keep human and environmental safety on the same level with profits I guess I would come out pro-fracking, even though it is a very hard decision to make. Rothberg, Peter. "The Perils of Hydro-Fracking | The Nation." The Nation. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Oct. 2011. <http://www.thenation.com/blog/154975/perils-hydro-fracking>. Hurdle, Jon. " Natural gas boom brings riches to a rural US town| Reuters." Business & Financial News, Breaking US & International News | Reuters.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Oct. 2011. <http://www.reuters.com/article/2010/04/05/energy-fracking-wellsboro- idUSN0214504720100405?type=marketsNews>. Guelpa, Philip. "Industry, politicians push hydrofracking despite environmental threat." World Socialist Web Site. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Oct. 2011. <http://www.wsws.org/articles/2011/mar2011/hydr- m25.shtml>.
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