Hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as 'Fracking', is a method which consists of breaking open underground shale rock using pressured water in order to release methane gas to be burnt for fuel. Fracking technology reached its maturity in the last 10 years, and has since then contributed to 81% of the nation's installed electricity capacity in the last decade (http://www.gracelinks.org/191/natural-gas-fracking-introduction). Despite the push for renewable energy, natural gas has exploded to the second more used fuel in america, and currently threatens to overtake coal in share of energy generation.The extent to which we embrace hydraulic fracturing may effect not only the future of the american economy, but the future of our planet.
Reports indicate that franking releases at most half as much carbon dioxide as coal when burned correctly, as well as far smaller quantities of other dangerous chemicals (http://www.epa.gov/cleanenergy/energy-and-you/affect/natural-gas.html). Proponents of natural gas point to the reduced emissions due to the fuel as a triumph of the free market system. They state that fracking has granted us an effective and economical method of reducing green house gases, while granting the country energy independence. To many, fracking technology is exactly what the world needs.
However, when considering the emissions from natural gas, one must consider what happens when the gas is not burnt correctly. More specifically, when methane is released from fracking sites. Methane gas is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide in reflecting sun rays (http://epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/gases/ch4.html) . The release of methane in fracking could offset the gains from reduced carbon dioxide emission. In addition, fracking involves pumping dangerous chemicals into ground water, leading to fears of contamination of water in nearby communities.
More prominently though, will fracking divert attention and resources away from more carbon neutral sources such as renewables and nuclear energy? Is Fracking a phenomenal transition fuel needed to buy us time while we adopt cleaner sources? Or, is it a diversion off of the road to sustainability, a solution as bad as the cause?
Join us to discuss! The articles in this short are really short. We highly recomend you read them!
Check out this page from Newsweek's 'debate club' to read some prominent opinions on the subject.
kmckeoug [atsymbol] andrew.cmu.edu