Fracking our Health

When it comes to any type of practice, there are bound to be different types of consequences that follow.  It is not any different when it applies to hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracking.  Hydrofracking has shown to be quite the productive form of obtaining natural gas, while also showing that it is decreasing CO2, or carbon dioxide emissions.  From a Pennsylvania standpoint, hydrofracking came out of nowhere, but with the Marcellus shale being found, natural gas has become quite abundant. Marcellus shale is the rock that is found deep in the earth that, when fractured, releases the natural gas.  There is so much natural gas that other states are honing in on using it as well, by importing from Pennsylvania.  Hydrofracking sounds like it could be the most reliable and cheapest energy source, while also minimizing damage to the environment.  However, while there are plenty of benefits to hydrofracking, there are also many downsides to the practice I do not entirely agree with, mainly due to the potential damage that it can cause.

To fully understand why hydraulic fracturing is both good and bad, one must understand what hydrofracking actually is.  Hydrofracking is the practice of drilling a well deep into the ground, and extracting the natural gas found inside of Marcellus shale rocks.  To extract the gas, the rocks are pumped with hundreds of thousands of gallons of mainly water, plus sand, hence the hydro in hydrofracking.  The rocks are fractured, releasing the gas, which is then extracted.  The Marcellus shale was first found in Washington County, Pennsylvania in 2003.  However, mass production did not actually begin until about 2005.  Since then, Pennsylvania, while once being primarily a coal state, is moving towards becoming a natural gas state, along with Texas.

Like any form of energy production, hydrofracking has its benefits.  With the energy source itself, natural gas, it is being found in vast amounts, which means that it is going to be cheaper than other forms of nonrenewable energy, such as oil and coal.  When it comes to the business aspect of hydrofracking, there is going to be a need for people to mine these wells, which means an increase in jobs.  Hydrofracking has seen a 67% rise in employment.  A study was conducted at Harvard which estimated that fracking generated roughly 2.7 million jobs in the last decade and will rise to around 3.5 million by 2035. Even with the ban on fracking inside the city’s borders, the metropolitan area of Pittsburgh alone contains about half of all shale wells in Pennsylvania.  The state has actually given Allegheny County the Marcellus Legacy Funds’ largest grants, such as giving Pittsburgh $802,990 in 2014 to help improve the city’s water.  Pennsylvania also has a $20 billion investment for new gas plants. 

When it comes to energy sources, one main difficulty that is faced is imports, as in obtaining the source from other countries that have it in abundance.  Pennsylvania, along with Texas, is assisting the US in becoming an exporter of natural gas.  With natural gas, the US does not need to rely so heavily on imports as it does with other fossil fuels.  Finally, there is the environmental aspect of hydrofracking.  When coal is burned, it gives off CO2, along with other harmful chemicals, such as mercury and sulfur dioxide, which contribute to the greenhouse effect.  Mining for coal is also a hazard in and of itself, especially with practices such as mountaintop removal and underground mining, which both cause heavy pollution of the nearby water, land, and air, as well as destroying the land and water sources.  However, even though burning natural gas still gives off large amounts CO2, it still gives off less than oil or coal according the Energy Information Administration (EIA), making it the better choice for the atmosphere.  Burning natural gas is a much better alternative energy source than burning fossil fuels, but there plenty of downsides to hydrofracking.

Hydrofracking, while being cheaper and more beneficial from a business standpoint, has its fair share if cons that follow with it.  Fracking does create more jobs, but they are mostly temporary.  Companies have even gone bankrupt because the prices and demand for oil and gas are constantly fluctuating.  Burning natural gas is still giving off CO2, even though it is in a smaller amount, which means that it is still contributing to the greenhouse effect.  Another big issue with hydrofracking is the wastewater, since it is found to contain a toxic level of radium, due to the radioactivity found near the wells.  There have also been high levels of manganese and iron found in the wastewater.  Even the water located near fracking operations is not safe, since faulty equipment or the spilling of wastewater can contaminate it.  The actual drilling and mining of the wells is not such a clean, quiet practice either.  As the number of gas wells rise in a community, so do the hospitalization rates.  People are suffering from health issues, such as fatigue, nausea, and even elevated risks of cancer due to fracking operations, which also raise the benzene levels in the air.  The silica sand used in fracking has caused silicosis and lung disease.  There has been evidence shown that the drilling from hydrofracking has increased the chances of earthquakes occurring. 

From 2001 to 2011, there was large spike in the number of earthquakes in the middle of the country, which were thought to be from fracking.  Animals are also put at risk with fracking, since their environments are surrounded by chemicals. However, fracking does not just pollute the area with oil and gas chemicals. Workers and citizens are also exposed to the loud noises produced by the fracking operations. Along with the noise, people are also exposed to continuous light, which can be very harmful at night. Exposure to both of these pollutants have shown the cause serious health effects, such as breast cancer and cardiovascular disease. The loud drilling is also a large contributor to stress and anxiety, since these sites are so close to homes, schools, and workplaces. The noise and light pollution also affect the wildlife surrounding the area.  The infrastructure has been a cause for concern as well.  There are large assortments of parts, such as pipes, valves, compressors, etc. However, the infrastructure has caused gas leaks, spills, and even explosions. A solution in place for these pollutants is to have setback distances, so that people and animals are not so close the operations. Unfortunately, we might require more solutions than just setback distances if we are to keep people safe and calm. 

When it all boils down, I do not agree with the practice of hydrofracking.  I think that, even though it is a better form of obtaining energy, there are still too many health and safety risks that come with the practice.  If I had fracking operations being conducted near my house, I would have to deal with potential radiation in the air or in my drinking water, the noise from the trucks and drilling, and the constant light when I am trying to sleep.  The toll that fracking could take on my health would not be worth any sum of money.  I would not be able to sleep with operations taking place, which means I would be constantly fatigued.  I would also have to worry about the toxicity of the water, since that could potentially lead to a higher risk of cancer and many other health issues.  I think that what should be done by fracking businesses is either relying on a different energy source or putting regulations on hydrofracking.  These could consist of setback distances from populated areas, lessening the number of wells, or taking more precautions about the noise, water, air, etc.  According to energy lawyer Kathy Condo, What’s out there may carry weight in the court of public opinion but isn’t yet solid enough for the court of law.  The data taken is too inconsistent, since the air levels are always changing with the amount of chemicals, even if they are not near fracking operations.  The toxicity levels in the air vary hourly regardless of where they are located.  There are some studies that can potentially link birth defects and fracking, but they are inconclusive.  The business of fracking has the burden of proof in this situation, since there are facts that prove that hydrofracking is safer than burning fossil fuels, as well as supplying jobs.  In 2016, after two dozen studies, the Environmental Protection Agency concluded that hydrofracking is unlikely to damage groundwater. 

Also, the U.S. Geological Survey stated that the earthquakes are from wastewater injection, not hydrofracking.  The USGS even stated that earthquakes from hydrofracking are too small to feel and are very rare. If we continue to allow the practice of hydrofracking, we will be utilizing a cleaner and cheaper energy source than oil or gas, slowing down the greenhouse effect, and supplying workers with, albeit temporary, jobs.  Unfortunately, we will still be putting the workers, along with nearby citizens and wildlife, in harm’s way.  This is due to the many potential dangers that come with hydrofracking.  If hydrofracking operations are to continue, there must be stricter regulations regarding the equipment, water disposal, pollution, etc.  If we completely get rid of hydrofracking, we will either have to continue burning fossil fuels, which is quite harmful to the planet, or utilize a safer alternative energy source, such as solar power or wind power.  While hydrofracking for natural gas is less harmful than burning fossil fuels, extra measures must be taken in order to ensure the safety of the people, wildlife, and the environment.

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