Sunday, September 14, 2014

Costs and benefits of fracking

A new study in the journal Annual Review of Environment and Resources summarizes the environmental costs and benefits of fracking, based on a review of 165 academic research articles and databases.  Read a summary here at Science Daily.  The full article is available here.

The article highlights some important tradeoffs, and does a nice job dispelling some myths. Perhaps the most important point is that there is still a lot that we don't know about this controversial procedure.

What do we know?  Fracking uses a lot of water, but the use of natural gas instead of coal, nuclear or ethanol saves a lot of water.  Groundwater contamination is possible (and not as likely as you might think according to the study), but contamination of the air with C02 is decreased significantly.

Fracking will most certainly continue. A massive source of energy is not going to be ignored. Basic supply and demand tells us that this will delay the transition to renewables, perhaps for a long time. The principle questions are what to do with the waste water and whether research into the costs and benefits can take place at a rate that parallels the growing demand for cheap energy.


Bridget Callahan said...

After reading this article I learned that fracking is a very new technology that needs to be researched further. With all the arguments against fracking I found the seismic activity one to be most influential. If a new technology is causing earthquakes I believe the resource extraction technology should be investigated thoroughly before it becomes a regular practice. Also, since this is a new technology the infrastructure needs to be built. Therefore, in the long run, would it be more cost effective to invest in solar and wind power? There are strong arguments for fracking over coal and oil. However, I think more research needs to be done to see the long term effects of fracking.

Lauren Anderson said...

Fracking certainly has great potential to help decrease our dependence on coal and other fuel resources. However, there does not seem to be enough evidence to safely allow fracking on a wide-scale. I was introduced to hydraulic fracturing my freshman year of college. My university hosted the film "Gasland," a documentary on the adverse effects of fracking inspired by one man's lucrative offer from an energy company to lease his land for fracking. The film shows faucets catching fire from contaminated wells, sick and dying animals from contaminated water exposure, and a slew of other terrible sights. One part of the film explained how some effects of the chemicals used in the injected fluid are unknown and many are known carcinogens. While my first exposure to the topic was heavily biased, I have found myself believing that fracking could prove to be the lesser of two evils when compared to burning coal. More research on potential hazards and environmental safety are certainly necessary but I believe fracking will become commonplace across the United States in the future.