Natural gas fracking is one the most common and industry-accepted ways to get natural gas out of the ground and pressed into service as a source of energy.
Now, let’s just be clear about something from the get-go here: natural gas is a GREAT source of energy and it is indicative of a lot of progress that we are turning to different sources of renewable energy. The only problem we have here is the WAY that the natural gas is being mined from the earth. So let’s start learning a bit about the process by which fracking works!
Here’s The Engineering Part:
The way that fracking works is that engineers use powerful drills to make deep, thin wells that stretch hundreds of feet into the ground. The well is cased in cement later on, to carry the different types of chemicals and fracking fluids that are used to crack the rock surface deep below. Often, explosives are sent down as well so that the rock surface can be more efficiently cracked open. All of this is to crack open rock faces deep below the surface of the earth so that natural gas can be more efficiently mined from below the surface.
And the Health Part:
Here’s the problem: believe it or not, putting a bunch of chemicals and explosives in the earth does have an effect on the environment around the fracking site. One of the biggest problems with fracking is the sheer amount of groundwater that is rendered useless because of all of the chemicals and fracking fluids in the soil. Often, the areas around fracking sites are useless for drinking for years after use; the amount of chemicals really messes up the natural balance of any ecosystem that is present.
The area around the well is also subject to the same damage that any construction site would face; the amount of trucks and heavy machinery driving around pollutes the area and mashes the ground down, and leaks oil and other products of heavy machines. The fracking well often needs more than 8 MILLION gallons of water to run the well properly, so this usually requires about 2000 rounds from tanker trunks. Think about that; the equivalent of 1 truck running over the same ground 2000 times has to happen in order for the fracking well to work at all.
We’ve already talked about how the air is polluted by the trucks that have to go through; 2000 tanker trucks full of water have to go through all of the time, so there is already as much pollution as you would see on a regular highway. However, there is more than that: Methane gas is a by-product of natural gas fracking, and about 4% of all methane that is mined escapes into the atmosphere. Methane traps 25 times more heat than Carbon Dioxide does, and so in Weld County, Colorado alone, the natural gas emissions cause as much pollution as 3 million cars would. The by-product of mining renewable energy is a TON of extra pollution.
And That’s Not All…
Methane gas and pollution are not the only things that cause a lot of pollution in these natural gas mines; lots of ozone, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, and random particulate matter from construction are released from the well sites. These natural gas mines are looking dirtier and dirtier every minute, aren’t they? One of the most dangerous products of natural gas mines is the particulate silica that is found everywhere around the gas mines… Crystalline silica is toxic to breathe, and can cause massive lung damage called silicosis, which is incurable. Preventable, but incurable.
And the Dangers Continue…
One of the most frightening (but probably least dangerous) side effects of natural gas fracking are the earthquakes that happen as a result of natural gas fracking. When waste water is injected into the ground to crack the massive rocks where the natural gas is hidden, varying amounts of seismic activity can be sensed from different measurements. These small earthquakes are known as “induced seismic activity.” These are very dangerous because of the sheer amount of people that could potentially be affected. Most of the time, these earthquakes are very small and localized, but it would only take on time for someone to make a mistake on a fault line to cause a big earthquake that could really hurt a lot of people at the same time. Although this is not a clear and present danger or something that is too likely to happen any time soon, it does not make ANYONE feel any better about fossil fuels as a source of energy.
Well, do the benefits outweigh the real dangers of natural gas fracking? I think a lot of people would say no. We DO want cleaner air, and natural gas gives us a way to burn something this is much clearer than coal or oil, but the irony is the sheer amount of oil that needs to be burned to mine this clean energy. Without a doubt, natural gas fracking has huge, dangerous downsides that cannot be ignored. It is dangerous to just look at the benefits of natural gas while ignoring the dangers of how it is produced. Let’s start making people aware that JUST because a source of energy is excellent and promising, that DOESN’T mean there are no problems that we need to still look at!
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