The Fracking Dilema

Saahithi Gaddipati, Copy Editor

With the growing climate crisis, we have begun to examine our policy to obtain and utilize natural resources, as well as emphasize the cost efficiency analysis of these processes. With this comes a greater awareness of various environmental-adjacent procedures, such as hydraulic fracturing. Also known as fracking, hydraulic fracturing is a process in which a mixture of water, sand, and chemicals are jettisoned into the earth at high speeds in order to extract oils and natural gases trapped in the earth. The large amount of fossil fuels extrapolated from this process serve to lower prices of gas, as well as fuel the economy. According to an article by Brookings Now, “Gas bills have dropped $13 billion per year from 2007 to 2013 as a result of increased fracking…Moreover, all types of energy consumers…saw economic gains totalling $74 billion per year from increased fracking.” Fracking also powers the United States’ oil export, Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy Steven Winberg states, “[Hydraulic Fracturing] made the United States the world’s largest oil and natural gas producer, while also creating high paying jobs and delivering great consumer savings.” 

While there are a multitude of economic benefits to fracking, its harmful effects on the environment severely impact its feasibility as a long-term commitment. The chemicals used throughout the process impact the environment around them, contaminating the fracking fluid beyond re-use. With the majority of fracking fluid solution being freshwater, it comes as a problem to have large quantities of it used in extraction, then contaminated to the point where it cannot be reused without extensive treatment. Currently, the most promising method of dealing with the contaminated fluids is to use resources to treat it and re-enter it in the fracking process. Other ways of disposal are not so efficient. Some methods include treatment and re-sourcing it to natural water bodies, repurposing it on roads for ice control, and the injection of the fluid into disposal wells. The first two methods allow for the chemicals to seep into sources we interact with, as the treatment that comes before re-integration of the water bodies oftentimes skipping through important steps. The disposal well method is arguably safe; however, the pressure that it has on the rock formation below it results in an increase of earthquakes. Additionally, the drilling process that occurs in fracking can lead to contaminated aquifers, a major source of drinking water. 

It is not just the environment at risk; fracking also introduces problems for human health, as the chemicals included in the process cause a myriad of health effects. An article from the National Resources Defense Council states, “Fracking sites release a toxic stew of air pollution….In addition, many of the 1,000-plus chemicals used in fracking are harmful to human health – some are known to cause cancer.” Oftentimes, the areas most impacted by fracking will have a poorer quality of life, due to the multitude of containment and chemical issues that accompany fracking. 

Although the environmental impacts are heavy, the dependence that the economy has on fracking is an impediment to change. Senior Mina Jo comments on the heavy correlation between oil and the state of the economy, saying, “I think it’s good for the economy, but I think our economy is very reliant on oil. When there are oil shortages, everything goes higher, gases go higher.” The immediate benefits of oil production make it difficult to fully halt fracking or switch to other clean energy sources. Jo advises to switch to “a more gradual stop of fracking, because we can’t immediately stop…we won’t be able to function if we stop immediately, so..gradually looking towards other forms of energy is more realistic.” This plan is a popular one and many areas have already begun or are in the process of trying to shift to clean energy.

Another idea includes restricting the geographic access of fracking sites. Freshman Keith Cao elaborates on this idea, stating, “For now, we should allow fracking, but limit the area you can do it in.” Providing more specifics, junior Pranav Alaparthi explains, “One way this might happen would be to centralize oil and where it comes from so there’s less damage.” One thing is certain, and that is that things must change.  Sophomore Anusha Manoj passionately exclaims, “At this rate, we are doomed. We are so set in our ways and have been doing the same thing for hundreds of years, but we’ve just realized it’s bad. And if we want to survive, we need to [radically] change the way we do things.” Manoj urges people to act, explaining the destruction that fracking will ensure in the coming years.

The many nuances in the topic of fracking result in a lack of action, and complacency. However, steps are being taken to combat the negative effects of fracking, and deal with the ongoing climate crisis. While we may not be able to directly change the policies surrounding hydraulic fracturing, we can educate ourselves and make the best decisions possible from there. In a world where we are flooded with choices and options, it is important to make each decision count so that the world will change for the better.