Fracking in the United States: Worth the Risk?
Fracking in the United States: Worth the Risk?
Hydraulic fracturing, better known as “fracking,” is a hot topic in today’s environmental arena and represents part of the United States’ recent effort to become more independent in regards to energy production. The process involves injecting a mixture of sand, water and chemicals under the earth’s surface allowing gas and oil to flow more freely and to be harvested more rapidly (Wile 2014). While fracking is certainly an effective method for withdrawing large volumes of oil, there is no uniform code for what chemicals companies are allowed to use and there is not enough evidence that has been gathered to prove that fracking does not harm our groundwater or drinking water sources.
The stakeholders involved in the fracking debate find themselves on opposite sides of the spectrum with far different agendas, which has the potential to allow environmental concerns to slip through the cracks. Large oil companies are eager to and already have begun fracking in areas such as Colorado and Pennsylvania and have began harvesting large amounts of crude oil. They have used their power and influence on government officials to expedite the legislative process to begin the drilling and have been very successful. However, as oil prices have dropped over the last few months they are losing a large amount of profits, but more importantly are losing influence (Gold and Ailworth 2014). With lower oil prices nationwide residents as well as state and local governments are less likely to allow companies to continue to risk environmental damage.
State and local governments are also major stakeholders; as they are responsible for the drilling and must balance the costs and risks to the environment with the benefits of job creation, lower oil prices, and energy independence. The state of New York recently banned fracking and it is possible that this leads to a domino effect in other states, as there have been studies that state that fracking directly relates to high levels of ground water contamination as well as air pollution (Koch 2014). This level of uncertainty suggests that a precautionary principle is the best approach to the fracking industry, as the reality is that it is unclear exactly what chemicals are being used and what their long term effects on our resources might be (Rosenbaum 2007).
The final and most important stakeholders in this debate are the local residents who face the prospect of dealing with unknown long-term effects on groundwater, drinking water and air pollution. Thus local residents must balance their desire for cheaper oil and energy independence versus the possibility for air and water pollution. Many residents have spoken out against fracking and encouraged their politicians to ban fracking to preserve our drinking water, as fracking disturbs natural aquifers regardless of the toxicity of the chemicals used, and many of the chemicals such as benzene have been linked to cancer and are also toxic to our wildlife (Carluccio 2014).
While the fracking industry certainly contributes to energy independence and strengthens the economy, the cost on the environment is simply too great. It is unacceptable to compromise drinking water quality and risk the release of chemicals into ground water sources and the atmosphere for more efficient oil production. The decision to ban fracking in New York represents a step in the right direction in regards to environmental protection and the use of the precautionary principle.
Carluccio, Tracy. “Fracking Is Destroying Our Groundwater – US News.” US News & World Report, November 28, 2014. http://www.usnews.com/debate-club/is-fracking-a-good-idea/fracking-is-destroying-our-groundwater.
Gold, Russell, and Erin Ailworth. “Fracking Firms Get Tested by Oil’s Price Drop.” Wall Street Journal, October 9, 2014, sec. Business. http://www.wsj.com/articles/fracking-firms-get-tested-by-oils-price-drop-1412899027.
Koch, Wendy “Could New York’s Fracking Ban Have Domino Effect?” National Geographic. December 18, 2014. Accessed January 30, 2015. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/energy/2014/12/141218-fracking-ban-new-york-states-oil-gas-drilling-energy-news/.
Rosenbaum, Walter A. “Common Policy Challenges: Risk Assessment and Environmental Justice.” Environmental Politics and Policy, 7th Edition. New York: CQ, 2007. 144-145. Web.
Wile, Rob “What Is Fracking? This Simple Animation Is The Best Explanation We’ve Ever Seen.” Business Insider. Accessed January 30, 2015. http://www.businessinsider.com/marathon-oil-animation-on-hydraulic-fracking-2014-7.
About Colin Knight
I am a junior at Davidson College with a major in political science and a minor in Spanish. In regards to environmental politics, I am specifically interested in renewable energies and sustainable development.