Many companies and individuals recognize the benefits of fracking, but there are also potential negative consequences, which will be discussed in the next section. This has led to a situation in which fracking is currently considered a controversial technique for extracting natural gas. While tapping into these vast resources is something many people are in favor of, the concerns center on what the process of fracking may be doing to the environment.
However, there are many benefits of fracking and utilizing it to access these deposits of natural gas and oil. One of the benefits is the ability for the United States to extend its supply of natural gas, which is used in many aspects of the energy industry, including home heating. Of all the fossil fuels, natural gas is the cleanest to burn, the most efficient, and the least costly. For these reasons, many newly built electric generation plants are turning to natural gas for fuel, rather than coal, creating increased demand for natural gas.
In addition to the ability to extend and use this large supply of natural gas, fracking operations can help develop the communities where plays are located. For example, according to Chevron, operators of fracking wells at the Marcellus play in Pennsylvania, this play generated $11.2 billion in what Chevron calls, “regional equivalent of gross domestic product,” and it contributed $1.1 billion to state and local tax revenues. Chevron says Marcellus also supported nearly 140,000 jobs. Fracking has become a large industry, and some people estimate that there are currently more than a million fracking wells across the country.
As with most types of energy drilling techniques, though, there are environmental concerns about fracking, and these concerns are increasing each year, due to more information coming to light about the effects fracking is having on local regions.
The most widespread concern people have with fracking techniques is that the groundwater used for residential drinking supplies will be contaminated due to leaking of the gas and chemicals used to extract it. In most wells, more than 99 percent of the fluids used are water and sand, some chemicals are added to aid in the flow of the natural gas. While the chemicals used can vary from well to well, the most commonly used chemicals include benzene, which is a known carcinogen. According to an article in Scientific American, the concern is not about a one-time fracturing operation, but multiple wells being built and operated multiple times in a geographic region. This more extensive fracking process increases the chances that groundwater will eventually become contaminated. Since no long-term studies have been conducted to evaluate fracking’s long-term effects, there is also concern that over time, due to the amount of fissures introduced into the shale, that gas and contaminants will enter groundwater.
There is also a concern that fracking processes also utilize what can be very precious water resources for their operations. It takes between 2 million and 3 million gallons of water per well to operate them. Multiply that figure by hundreds of wells, and there is a huge quantity of water required. In 2011, almost the entire state of Texas was experiencing drought conditions. One of the largest shale plays is located in Texas. It was understandable for citizens to be concerned that these wells were utilizing a resource that was much needed by its residents and other businesses. Some fracking operations, such as the Marcellus play, are creating processes to recycle their wells’ wastewater so that less water is consumed by each well.