Free Biology And Technology In The Real World: Fracking Essay Sample
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The planet earth is rich in mineral resources, which are buried deep under the surface. Some of these treasures include oil and gas which are vital energy sources both for commercial and non-commercial use. The large quantity of gas and oil found in the geologic formations has a poor flow rate, which is worsened by the low permeability and clogging caused by rocks and other geologic features. Tight sands and shales are some of the impermeable geologic structures that inhibit the free flow of oil and gas from geologic formation. Advanced technology has made it possible for the resources to be mined and put into good use. However, the mining of these resources has caused wide scale pollution to land, water and air. This essay will explore the process of hydraulic fracturing and discuss the environmental impacts associated with this process.
Natural gas plays a pivotal role in the development of any country’s economy. Most countries regard natural gas to be the solution to the energy crisis that has hit most countries. Natural gas is classified among the clean sources of energy. This gas is normally extracted through a process known as hydraulic fracturing or fracking. The US is well endowed with vast reserves of natural gas found trapped in geologic formations. A combination of fracking and horizontal drilling makes it possible for the natural gas to be mined from the shale formations.
How Fracking and Tar Sand Mining Works
The process works by having a well drilled into the shale formation. A steel pipe is then inserted into the drilled well. The pipe is perforated within the target zones that contain the gas or oil deposit so that when the fracking liquid is injected into the well it flows through the perforations into these target zones. As the process proceeds, the speed at which the fluid is injected into the shale formation will surpass the speed at which this fluid is absorbed by the shale formation leading to a buildup of pressure which will cause the shale formation to fracture or crack (Mooney, 2011). Once the crack has been created, the fluid injection is stopped and the fracturing fluid starts to flow back to the surface. Proppants (materials injected together with fracturing fluid remains behind holding the cracks open.
Typically, liquids such as a mixture of proppants, water and chemicals is pumped into the target formation. However, walls can also be fractured by injecting nitrogen and propane into the wells. Often times acidizing happens simultaneously with fracking or it follows immediately after fracking has been completed. Acidizing entails pumping of hydrochloric acid into the target formation to dissolve some of the rock materials to enable the gas to flow readily into the wells. Tar sands are also mined from target formations. They are found embedded in shale or rock formations (Mooney, 2011). Tar sands are a combination of sand, clay, water, heavy black viscous oil and bitumen. These are mined either by pumping hot air into the ground to scald the oil deposits from the solid rock or in open-pit mines.
Environmental problems associated with hydraulic fracking and tar sands
There are many risks associated with fracking and tar sands. These range from the contamination of ground water, air pollution impacts, and blowouts during gas explosion, waste disposal, and exposure to toxic chemicals, fracking-induced earthquakes, infrastructure degradation and workplace safety among others (Engelder et al, 2011). The impacts of fracking and tar sands are far reaching and can broadly be categorized into air, soil and water pollution.
Methane gas, which is one of the main components of natural gas, is 25 times more potent in trapping the heat from earth into the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. Other air pollutants are also released into the atmosphere during the fracking process. Some of the pollutants released into the atmosphere during drilling include toluene, benzene, xylene, particulate matter, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide and formaldehyde. Crystalline silica released during tar sand extraction can cause silicosis (an incurable, albeit preventable lung disease) when the workers at the site inhales it (Engelder et al, 2011).
The toxic fluid produced during the fracking process percolates and finds its way into water bodies and the ground water and pollutes the water sources. Fissures created during the fracking process can create underground pathways for chemicals, gases and radioactive materials (Engelder et al, 2011). The toxic fluid which flows back to the surface comes laden with radioactive material, heavy metals, brine water and liquid hydrocarbons which can easily contaminate both ground and surface water bodies.
As is in the case of water pollution, the soil can get polluted on the surface or down beneath the surface. Oil spills from faulty pipes and fractures that allow the oozing of toxic material into the soil can cause wide scale soil pollution causing the death of flora and fauna supported by the soil. It is important to channel the target deposits to the wells and then be lifted to the surface with as minimum leakage as possible (Engelder et al, 2011).
Health effects of hydraulic fracturing and tar oil mining
Aside from the effects highlighted above, fracking and tar oil mining, these processes also affect the health of both the workers and the people living around the mining sites. The chemicals used in the process could affect the eyes, skin, gastrointestinal and respiratory systems (Newton, 2013). Additionally, these chemicals can affect the cardiovascular and immune systems and can easily cause cancer and mutations.
Prevention and mitigation
The effects that fracking and tar sand mining has on human health can be prevented. This can be done by setting out rules and laws that prohibit fracking close to human settlement. Additionally, no fracking should be done close or near to drinking water surface. Hefty penalties should be imposed on those found flouting these regulations (Newton, 2013). Further, the employees working in these mining sites should be clothed in protective wear at all times and they should have access to medical checks as often as possible.
Engelder, T., Howarth, R., & Ingraffea, a. (2011). Should fracking stop? Nature,477, 271-275.
Mooney, C. (2011). The Truth about Fracking. Scientific American.
Newton, D. E. (2013). World energy crisis: A reference handbook. Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO.
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