What is Fracking?
Fracking is more formally known as hydraulic fracturing, a fancy technology that allows vertical natural gas wells to drill horizontally.
To frack, or not to frack?
Hot fracking battles have been on going for years. General pros and cons could be seen. Though different people give different opinions, the pros are all from the economic standpoint while the cons are on the environmental and health side.
- Create more jobs
- Less greenhouse gas emission
- Energy independence
- Water usage and contamination
- Methane leaks from wells will offset the decreasing CO2 emission
- Possible environmental degradation
Those pros come with concrete numbers from industries that are so vivid that you could even see the beautiful future they depict. However, the cons are mostly predictions and effects that will surface decades or centuries later. Who could resist this temptation? Even my own mind is about to say “Go frack”.
Rhetoric vs Reality
One great strength for these economic points is that the outcomes are more immediate. That is what makes their promise sound so touchable. Years have passed since Texas and Ohio had their hydraulic fracturing wells. Are they really presenting the fascinating picture as industries promised?
A presentation, “Shale Promises, or Shale Spin? The Economics Behind Fracking“, given by Deborah Rogers on January 19, 2012 revealed a totally different story. An industry sponsored study claimed that 44,000 jobs and $7.17 billion in economic activities had been created in Pennsylvania. However, in 2011, a new Penn State study showed that the natural gas development had created roughly half the jobs and economic activity reported in an earlier industry funded study. In Ohio, industry projected 200,000 jobs while the study only projected 1/10 of it. These fancy but misleading numbers provided by industries did not take the cost of extraction in to account.
The retrospect not only unveiled those disappointing numbers but also showed terrible negative impact. After already drilling 15,000 wells, Fort Worth City, Texas decided to run a test about the impact to the environment and found out that Benzene was detected at 94% of all sites tested within the city proper and childhood asthma was more than double the national average.
Another thing on the Pro list is energy independence. When the international crude price keeps hitting a record high, this is absolutely a key question to consider. But in a capitalist country, the power of market could not be ignored. In the era of globalization, the international market plays a big role in business activities. When the natural gas price is about $3 in the US while Asian countries would pay $12~$15, it will not take long for energy companies to decide where to sell their natural gas. How could natural gas gain US energy independence when it is exported to other countries?
Delaware River Basin
As shown in the map from ALL Group, Marcellus Shale is located at the headwaters of the Delaware River which supports 15 million people from 4 states. Not only having those discounted projected numbers, the coming drilling wells may eliminate existing economic activities such as eco-tourism. While the promising immediate positive economic outcomes are not fully realized, long-term environmental degradation will be the major consequence for the river basin. Who would have the feeling of temptation? My mind is yelling “Don’t frack”.
On this important issue in the Delaware River Basin, the Delaware River Basin Commission is gradually moving forward on regulations.