Example Of Pros And Cons Of Hydraulic Fracturing Research Paper
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The recent boom in shale oil and gas production has created an ongoing controversy regarding the use of hydraulic fracturing technology. Since Stanolind Oil introduced hydraulic fracturing in 1949, several researches have been conducted which aims to examine public perception such as familiarity, level of support or opposition and their prediction or judgment based on the information that is commonly available in order to weigh public sentiments over hydraulic fracturing. According to studies, the public is generally unfamiliar about the processes used in hydraulic fracturing and it is highly probable that they are misinformed about its potential impact . Among the unfamiliar aspects about this relatively new technology are the pros and cons associated with it. Most people are uncertain whether to support or oppose because they are not well informed regarding the subject. Public protest that aims to discredit hydraulic fracturing, on the other hand, should be carefully evaluated not because of the public's emotional sentiments but rather, should be based on scientific facts and actual evaluation. Hydraulic Fracturing can be considered as one of the most innovative technologies in 20th century. In fact, Hydraulic Fracturing or fracking, as it is commonly called, have significantly revolutionized how oil and natural gas are being extracted in such a way that some people consider it as a disruptive technology . Today, there is an ongoing debate whether the positive impacts of hydraulic fracturing justifies the risk associated with it. For the same reason, this paper would like to investigate the process associated with hydraulic fracturing and determine the pros and cons of this technology in terms of environmental, health and economic impact.
Prior to hydraulic fracturing, oil and gas companies use conventional drilling methods to extract fossil fuels underground. Conventional methods includes a trial and error process of drilling holes in order to penetrate the rock formation on its center and initiate the gradual extraction of its fuel contents. Unfortunately, this method is quite cumbersome and sometimes requires several bore holes before the fuel can be extracted at economic levels. In some instances, some areas where there are large deposits of oil and natural gas may not be feasible to extract because they are hard to reach using conventional drilling methods. For the same reason, conventional drilling methods are not only cumbersome but also expensive because of the inefficient way of extracting the fuel deposits. Eventually, horizontal drilling was developed wherein drilling direction can be maneuvered underground. This technology provided drilling operators’ greater mobility . As a result, even hard to reach reservoirs can be easily extracted as drillers can operate even if they are not directly on top of the reservoir. Almost parallel to the development of horizontal drilling, hydraulic fracturing was introduced to facilitate the efficient extraction of oil and natural gas. Hydraulic fracturing is a process that includes a combination of underground drilling and injection of highly pressurized fluids. The major principle behind this technology is to use hydraulic force by forcing the fluid to crack open the rock formations that bear oil and natural gas so that these fossil fuels can easily seep through the cracks. Although water is the major component of the hydraulic fluid (approximately 98%), chemical additives and sands are also added with water. These chemical additives are formulated to facilitate cracks on rock formations while the sand keeps these cracks open. The use of hydraulic fracturing principles in drilling and other earth moving activities is not a new thing. In fact, as early as the 1800’s, mining industries used enormous amounts of water to blast away mountain sides and reveal the valuable ores. However, it was not until 1949 when the Stanolind Oil Company developed and introduced hydraulic fracturing in oil and gas extraction that the technology has gained enormous attention.
Benefits of Hydraulic Fracturing
The efficiency in extracting oil and natural gas as brought about by hydraulic fracturing technology has ripple effects on the economy of some oil producing countries especially the United States. As observed by Yergin, hydraulic fracturing catapulted the United States from being a declining producer of natural gas and oil to being the world’s number one producer today. Accordingly, the hydraulic fracturing revolution turned out to be “a big boost for the American economy, creating jobs, improving the country’s competitive position and drawing in over a $100 billion of new investment”. Consumers of oil and natural gas also benefit from the improvement of its extraction. Evidently, since hydraulic fracturing have been applied to the oil and gas industry, its production has incrementally increased, lowering down the prices in a rate that was never experienced before. Economic waste is also determined to be more pronounced in conventional drilling technologies because of its inefficient production methods. On the other hand, hydraulic fracturing uses targeted and carefully controlled bore holes that does not only significantly increase production but also eliminates the need to drill wells that in close proximity with each other. Aside from the economic benefits of hydraulic fracturing, the technology offers an efficient and less disruptive way of extracting oil and natural gas at least in terms of biodiversity disturbance. It has been observed that most oil and gas deposits are found in highly diverse environments. The combined technology of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing enables drilling operations to commence far from the area where there is high risk of disrupting the environment.
Negative Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing
Environmental and health hazards are among the major drawbacks of hydraulic fracturing. Apparently, it does not matter whether or not conventional or modern drilling technologies are used because in general, oil and gas exploration and extraction poses negative impact to the environment one way or another. Studies have shown that there is a plethora of negative environmental impacts associated with drilling operations so much more if drilling is combined with hydraulic fracturing technologies. Fracking and its support activities causes disturbance to biologically diverse environments. As a result, biodiversity is at risk and at some instances; the disturbance may cause the spread of parasitic organisms that may endanger human health. Hydraulic fracturing also increases the risk of ground water contamination. Aside from the methane gas that naturally seeps through the bore holes and contaminate the water table, it is feared that toxic chemical additives used in hydraulic fracturing could leak and contaminate ground water as well. It is also interesting to note that the contamination of ground water is irreversible and can affect a large area depending on the level of contamination and the toxicity of the contaminant. Aside from the adverse environmental and health issues, hydraulic fracturing is causing controversy as it is disrupting the supply and demand conventions of oil and gas in a global scale. The long term economic impact of hydraulic fracturing is still uncertain but it is quite evident that the technology is causing economic as well as political tensions between oil producing countries. As observed by Yergin, there is a struggle between oil producing countries as to whether who will rule the oil and gas market.
Just like any other revolutionary technology, hydraulic fracturing has its pros and cons. However, most people are unaware of what hydraulic fracturing is and how it affects the environment, the economy as well as the global oil and gas industry. For oil and gas producing countries, hydraulic fracturing can either be a blessing or a curse. Among its advantages is it significantly increases oil production, which translates to generating bigger revenues. Hydraulic fracturing also offers the most cost and labor efficient method of oil and gas extraction to date. For the same reason, drilling operators use the technology because of its vast economic potential. However, it is also determined that hydraulic fracturing poses environmental and health risks, which could not be ignored. The most significant of which is the contamination of ground water reservoirs. Aside from the methane gas that seeps through the bore holes, there is always the tendency that toxic additives could contaminate ground water and cause environmental and health hazards. And once ground water is contaminated, the process could not be reversed. Despite these disadvantages, it should be noted that going back to conventional method of drilling is impractical and inefficient. Conventional methods also pose more environmental and health risks because of their rudimentary procedures. On the other hand, stopping oil and gas exploration and extraction is not an option since the world is still highly dependent on these fossil fuels for its energy needs. Governments and private corporations are operating in a scenario where they have limited options. Currently, there is no other technology that is more advanced and less destructive than hydraulic fracturing and yet the hazards associated with this technology must also be considered.
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