From: Allison Singer, Worldwatch Institute, More from this Affiliate
Published April 5, 2013 10:33 AM

Fracking: The Solution? Or The Problem?

As the world hurtles towards catastrophic climate change, it is imperative to evaluate current policies, implement new policies, and transition towards a planet less dependent on fossil fuels. Easily accessible fossil fuels have been depleted due to our dependence on them, and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) has been touted as a way to increase extraction efficiency and help sustain our current energy consumption rates. However, fracking has also been roundly criticized as environmentally damaging, and as a simple band-aid strategy to delay the inevitable end of fossil fuels.

Fracking is a way to increase the efficiency of oil and gas wells, as well as access previously untapped reserves, and is performed by pumping fracturing fluid (composed of water, chemicals, and materials to keep the induced fracture open) into a wellbore. Fracking has been most developed in the United States, where it has contributed to increased oil and natural gas production for several years. Shale gas in particular has been heralded as an energy revolution — shale gas has grown from 2% of U.S. gas production in 2000 to 40% in 2012, and is touted as a substantially cleaner alternative to coal.

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Thomas Friedman, author of Hot, Flat, and Crowded, agrees that fracking should be exploited, as it is much cleaner than coal, and inexpensive to disseminate. However, he is clear about the environmental dangers of fracking, including large amounts of methane leakage. Methane is even more dangerous than carbon dioxide in terms of its atmospheric warming properties. Friedman suggests that we regulate fracking, ensuring the environment is as protected as it can be. At the same time he warns that fracking must not be relied upon in any long-term plans. It is imperative to continue developing renewable energy technologies, and providing the political and economic incentives to implement such technologies. Fracking should be used on a short-term basis only, while we quickly transition to a sustainable, renewable energy future.

Thomas Princen, Jack P. Manno, and Pamela Martin explore this possible new future in their State of the World 2013 chapter, “Keep Them in the Ground: Ending the Fossil Fuel Era.” They understand that we live in a world built by fossil fuels, and we cannot simply ignore the energy potential of fossil fuels, but in order to prevent catastrophic climate change, we must utilize that potential as a springboard towards a world where renewable energy drives society. Fossil fuels must be strictly regulated and used only when a substitute cannot be found. Instead of racing to uncover hidden reservoirs of fossil fuels, the authors argue that we must “imagine a deliberately chosen post-fossil fuel world,” and then act in such a way to make that dream a reality.

However, it is difficult for many to ignore the immediate economic benefits to fracking. Boomtowns have arisen in congruence with the increased emphasis on fracking, and some of the most depressed parts of the United States now have unemployment rates below 1%, providing high-paying jobs to thousands of workers. Fracking has the potential to provide energy independence, a transition to cleaner energy, and economic prosperity to regions rich in untapped natural resources. However, it also poses dangerous risks to the environment, and may increase our dependence on fossil fuels instead of helping the transition to renewable energy and a cleaner future.

In addition to massive water usage and groundwater contamination, fracking has also been linked to increases in seismic activity.increases in seismic activity.increases in seismic activity. may contaminate groundwater. In addition to massive water usage and groundwater contamination, fracking has also been linked to increases in seismic activity.

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