Can We Balance the Significance and Constraints of Hydraulic Fracturing?

Published On October 18, 2019
In ESG, Blog Archives

The thought of a pollution-free and eco-friendly environment is the basis of reducing carbon footprint and emission of greenhouse gases. This paved the way for the replacement of coal and oil with natural gas and renewable energy sources for fuels.

What is Hydraulic Fracturing?

Hydraulic fracturing or fracking refers to the injection of water, various chemicals, and sand deep down the earth under high pressure to extract this natural gas from shale and other types of sedimentary rocks. The essential source for the fracking process is water and this process is also referred to as unconventional production.

Although fracking aids to extract natural gas, it comprises of restraints that may outweigh its significance. In this article let’s discuss the potential limitations and importance, and ways to put together a balance between the significance and constraints of fracking.

Potential Constraints and Risks due to Hydraulic Fracturing

Though fracking is designed to extract natural gas as a way to reduce carbon print and greenhouse gas emission; it comes with its own limitations.

  1. The amount of water required for fracking on an average is 8 million liters, which is equivalent to the daily consumption of 65000 people in the US.
  2. Chemicals like Benzol and Formic acid used during the fracking process highly contaminates the water used. This is referred to as wastewater or flow back water or produced water. The wastewater reportedly contains massive amounts of brine (salts), toxic metals, and radioactivity, that it cannot be treated in a wastewater treatment plant.
  3. Almost 60-80% of wastewater remains underground. As fracking wastewater is contaminated and radioactive, they need to be properly treated for disposal. This disposal of this wastewater is done either by transporting to disposal locations or storing the wastewater deep under the earth in thick concrete containers.
  4. Surface water contamination through spillage and improperly built and maintained waste pits or tailing ponds great threat to irrigation and farming.
  5. Apart from water prone risks, fracking also causes air pollution and poses great climatic change threats as methane – one of the greenhouse leaders is released in enormous amount during the process.
  6. Improper concretion or spillage of wastewater deep underground can cause earthquakes. China has recently faced an earthquake due to the fracking boom on Feb 24.
  7. Poses great health hazards borne to air pollution. Forbes study states that Babies born within a 3 kilometers radius of a fracking site are more likely to suffer from poor health.

“Countries such as Scotland have placed a temporary moratorium on the practice due to risk concerns and strong public opposition whereas it is banned in many states of Australia and completely in France.”

Significance of Fracking

Though fracking comes with its potential restrictions and impacts, it has flattered the oil and gas industry as well as the economy significantly as mentioned below.

  • It has enabled a decrease in a country’s dependence on foreign oil
  • Reduced energy costs and strengthened energy security.
  • Manual resources are required during drilling and transportation aspects of the process. This has given rise to more job opportunities
  • While the utility of renewable energy is still under study, consumption of natural gas has bought some ample time to build an energy economy that relies on renewable sources and low-carbon fossil fuels.

Mitigation measures that can be taken            

To get the most of fracking, a planned approach with the below pointers can help to mitigate the risks substantially.  Analyzing and acting on appropriate measures will also enable a balance between the pros and cons of hacking.

  1. Adhering processes like Ecosphere, to treat the fracking wastewater. In the ecosphere process, the biocides and descaling agents are replaced with an ozone-based treatment.
  2. Avoid transportation of wastewater as it causes heavy road traffic and pollution due to spillage.
  3. Regulate the underground wastewater disposal with proper concretion procedures to mitigate impact due to wastewater.
  4. Cater to the uninhabited site selection for the fracking process to reduce air, noise, and traffic pollution for the local livelihood.
  5. Proper maintenance and regulated monitoring of tail ponds to avoid threats to farming and irrigation.

Wrapping Up

Every process comes with its own positives and negatives- all we need to do is formulate the best measures and analyze the aftermath to balance the advantages and disadvantages; fracking is no exception.

References:

  1. Tatomir, A., McDermott, C., Bensabat, J., Class, H., Edlmann, K., Taherdangkoo, R., & Sauter, M. (2018), Conceptual model development using a generic Features, Events, and Processes (FEP) database for assessing the potential impact of hydraulic fracturing on groundwater aquifers
  2. Ground Water Protection Council; ALL Consulting (April 2009). Modern Shale Gas Development in the United States: A Primer (PDF) (Report). DOE Office of Fossil Energy and National Energy Technology Laboratory. pp. 56–66
  3. https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10000872396390443866404577565244220252020
  4. “New Research of Surface Spills in Fracking Industry”. Professional Safety58 (9): 18. 2013
  5. Taherdangkoo, Reza; Tatomir, Alexandru; Taylor, Robert; Sauter, Martin (September 2017). “Numerical investigations of upward migration of fracking fluid along a fault zone during and after stimulation”. Energy Procedia125: 126–135.
  6. https://governorswindenergycoalition.org/a-decade-of-fracking-research-what-have-we-learned/
  7. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uti2niW2BRA
  8. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uti2niW2BRA [1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uti2niW2BRA
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Rahul Mudliar
Rahul Mudliar
About the Author

Rahul Mudliar has 4+ years of work experience in sustainability. He holds a Specialized Master’s degree in ‘Climate Change and Sustainability Studies’ from Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai. Has expertise in Multi-Billion Dollar investors and asset managers to make a decision about the Risk vs Security of investing in companies, and analyzing profiles of companies around the world on their Sustainability performance, which includes the themes of Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance (ESG).

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