The Hydraulic Fracturing Debate
The Hydraulic Fracturing Debate
The documentary film Gasland provoked a lot of commentary soon after its release. It drew attention to the detriments of the highly controversial method of gas drilling. The film laid bare the effects of fracking, as it is commonly referred on the society. A number of families are documented recounting how the drilling of wells in their areas using fracking has affected their lives. Hydraulic fracturing is a method of extraction that involves use of chemicals and large amounts of water. This paper digs deep into the core of the debate that questions the safety of fracking on the society and its inhabitants. Though the film is based in Pennsylvania, other areas will also be explored in this commentary.
Hydraulic fracturing is mainly used in the extraction of natural gas. The globalization of safer and cheaper sources of energy has resulted in increased consumption of natural gas. It is often considered a cleaner alternative to coal, a form of energy that pollutes the environment. This explains the rush by energy companies to make profit from exploitation of natural gas. The country’s politicians have joined in on this money making venture. This explains their strong opposition to retracting of hydraulic fracturing as a means of extraction.
The current raging debate poses two juxtaposed arguments, the former being for, and the latter against fracking. The basis on which this debate is conducted is the alleged risk of fracking. At what cost, or to what extent this process should be carried out is the question that many people are confronted with, whenever the subject arises. The scenes from the film offer a clear view of the consequences of fracking on various aspects of society, most of which provide an answer to the questions above. The benefits of natural gas, however many, cannot be compared to the risk and subsequent damage caused by fracking.
Pennsylvania is one of a number of states that rest on the biggest natural gas reserve, the Marcellus Shale. Its high potential of natural gas is the reason various companies have set base in the state. Landowners in such areas are approached with lucrative offers from energy companies, as means to persuade them to sell or lease their land. Research indicates that most of the land used for fracking is in the rural areas. Whether or not it is purely an exploitation of the economically challenged in society, is a matter of guesswork. Inhabitants of most rural areas usually have fewer resources to address problems that result from fracking, including the companies responsible. There have been contradictions to this view, with claims that urban areas lack space for such processes to be carried out.
Water, is the most affected resource among others resulting from fracking. The effect ranges from its quality to quantity. Fracking requires millions of gallons of water, a factor contributing to its depletion. The impact is greater on areas that already have a short supply of water due to aridity or other factors. Various companies use devious means to access water for their projects, such as blocking waterways and redirecting the water to the drilling sites. This affects the amount of water supplied to domestic households and other areas where it is required.
The quality of water in drilling sites has reportedly changed since fracking commenced. The chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing are highly toxic, and once released into water systems, can cause severe damage. Several indications of intoxication include a change in color to brownish. Water in areas near drilling wells is so toxic to the extent of inflammability. A scene from the documentary corroborates with other sources that reveal this fact. A man in the film places a lighter near his water faucet and it instantly gets inflamed. This phenomenon is due to the presence of methane, which is highly flammable. Obviously, this water is not drinkable and should be treated before consumption. Rather than send the water to treatment plants after the gas has been stripped off, polluted water is left to sit in ponds where it often leaks out. Different researchers have argued about the possibility of contaminated water leaking, claiming that the rocks are too airtight to allow it.
Extraction of fossil fuel has constantly been politicized, which accounts for reasons why certain matters are not investigated. Institutional frameworks tasked with protecting the people have relented in their efforts to do so, instead resorting to profit seeking. This is evident from the manner in which oil and gas companies are left to roam free despite their lack of public accountability. Disciplinary or legal action should be taken against them for exposing the public to risk. Fracking has been exempted from the Safety Drinking Water Act of 2005, Clean Water Act, and Clean Air Act among a host of other environmental legislations. It is such inadequate oversights that fail to protect citizens and communities from the rapid expansion of fossil fuel production and its menace.
The chemicals omitted during fracking operations lead to air pollution. Environmentalists have complained of this severally but it is clear that the law favors hydraulic fracturing. There have been calls for oil and gas companies to reveal the components of the chemical mixture used in their operations, to no avail. These secret additives are considered as trade secrets and therefore cannot be released into the public domain. The society is thus left in the mercy of companies, supported by the very people who should be safeguarding public interest.
Water and air pollution are the cause of a myriad of health hazards that plague people and animals living close to drilling wells. These illnesses range from chronic respiratory diseases to eye infections and different types of cancer. Toxic chemicals are at the core of these health problems, though most companies refute this. According to them, for instance, certain toxic substances have been present in water and air long before fracking was implemented. Methane in water sources is an example of these chemicals (Schrope 1). This is a way of exonerating themselves from the concern of the public over the damage brought by fracking. Emissions of chemicals used in fracking into the air contribute to depletion of the ozone layer. Fracking joins the list of activities that cause global warming.
The national heritage in form of wildlife has also come under threat from the effects of fracking. Habitat fragmentation is one consequence of fracking, where national parks and other animal reserves are being divided. Extraction facilitates road construction for purposes of transporting equipment and produce from drilling wells. Habitats are affected when these roads pass through them this tampers with the natural movement of wildlife and decreases biodiversity. Some animals are moved to other reserves for their protection or to replicate the environment they were used to. National parks also experience intrusion by other species, which are not native to them, thus tampering with the existent natural environment.
One of the areas that was not previously explore was the effect of fracking on farming. Rural areas, where most drilling wells are, remain to be the main suppliers of agricultural produce. Farmers from these areas supply products to urban areas, including hotel outlets. Recent study shows that animal and plants’ exposure to chemicals released from fracking sites can lead to irreversible damage. Contamination of water sources, which are used on vast farmlands, has contributed to loss of animals and crops. The study compared effects on animals exposed with those from animals that have not been exposed to tainted substances. Some farmers have reported death of animals within instant exposure to chemicals. This is detrimental to the country’s economy.
Gasland did a proper job in highlighting the perils of large-scale fracking, more so the plea of families plagued with contaminated water. Its use of real characters and experiences helped to stamp on the credibility of sources in the documentary. This notwithstanding, various people have raised doubts over the accuracy of the reports recorded in the film. Most of them imply that the film failed to provide adequate research into the true causes of the hazards that the Pennsylvania residents and other were experiencing. Despite this criticism, the documentary succeeds in leaving a notable mark on society.
The adoption of environmental friendly energy sources worldwide has contributed greatly to the frenzy around gas drilling. The masses are entitled to cleaner, safer energy, but it is not worth the fuss if they will not live long enough to consume it. In other words, the merits of using natural gas are outweighed by the danger that its extraction poses to society. Research shows that fracking can be conducted in a safer manner, but at an extra cost. It is at the discretion of oil and gas companies to decide whether to employ caution when using hydraulic fracturing.
Schrope, Mark. Fracking Outpaces Science On Its Impact. Environment Yale, 2013. <http://environment.yale.edu/envy/stories/fracking-outpaces-science-on-its-impact>
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