The growing opposition to the shale gas industry has conflicted with the need for domestic independence on energy and a reasonable debate is understandably created. Like a Pandora's box, a great and helpful technology has been afforded to the people of this country in the form of hydraulic fracturing, however this technology must be tempered in order for the true and real benefits to be realized. Debate and opposition on this topic is welcomed and will produce a situation where many interests have been heard and incorporated within the argument. " if the hype turns into reality, then the world energy markets can look forward to floating on clouds of cheap gas, certainly up to 2030, if not beyond, " (p.10).
There is a great deal of literature extant on this topic and is worth exploring to gather a finer appreciation for what is at stake in this shale gas revolution. Seeing both sides, or the multiple sides, of this idea is important to help develop a picture of this technology that produces the most predictable and effective results. Since the industry is composed of many differing professions, such as geology, sales, business and logistics, there are many factors to consider when weighing the totality of the entire situation.
Wisniewski (2011) explored some of the general points of the debate in his argument. He suggested that fast rise of shale gas can be expected to continue due to the profitability that hydraulic fracturing of shale produces. In other words, the business is good and looks good for the future and therefore the means justify the ends. This argument exploits the economic argument for the practice based on strictly commercial figures. He wrote "Perhaps crucially, shale gas is expected to offset the decline in the production of conventional deposits (both onshore and offshore) and the stagnation of output from other so-called unconventional pockets of natural gas (tight gas and coal-bed methane). Once the pace at which estimates about the actual or potential size of shale deposits have been recalibrated is factored in, the role of shale gas can be expected to rise even further."
Aladeitan & Nwosu (2013) explained a different perspective. These authors being from Canada highlights the importance of this issue as the global impact of this practice are undeniably formidable. They wrote "Although shale gas development raises critical legal and environmental challenges, yet its development seems set to take the global energy world in a revolutionary way. The effect of this gradual but sweeping revolution carries with it gains and pains. Gains are for those who traditionally were classified as importing countries and pains for the exporting countries in terms of loss of revenue."
Cheap energy allows business to produce goods and services and a more efficient and effective rate. Shale gas may be the key to regaining economic solvency after a global economic depression. The temptation to look at this source as a saving grace is very promising, but once again must be put into perspective with the negative side effects that accompanies such a potent and impactful tool. Bullis (2013) agreed with this idea when he wrote "The impact of cheap natural gas on manufacturing could extend beyond the production of various chemicals. Using natural gas as an energy source, rather than a chemical feedstock, could significantly lower costs for manufacturers who use a lot of energy, such as steel makers. Overall, cheaper chemicals, cheaper steel, and cheaper transportation could make the U.S. A far more attractive place for a wide range of industries."
The U.S. Energy Information Administration revealed the importance of shale gas for the future of America in their Annual Energy Outlook for 2013. The emphasis for America to become energy independent and ultimately a net exporter of energy is well within the goals and capabilities for this country according to their opinions. Shale gas plays a very significant role in this process and is necessary for this growth. The report stated "Higher volumes of shale gas production are central to higher total production volumes and a transition to net exports. As domestic supply has increased in recent years, natural gas prices have declined, making the United States a less attractive market for imported natural gas and more attractive for export. Relatively low natural gas prices, maintained by growing shale gas production, spur increased use in the industrial and electric power sectors, particularly over the next decade, " (p.15).
Shale producing natural gas has great benefit for many reasons which is why its proponents are headstrong about incorporating the risks that derive from these efforts. Natural gas is the cleanest burning fossil fuel. The costs to the environment which will be discussed, are not as damaging for shale gas supporters. Stevens (2012) wrote "Results from recent studies indicate that the impact on climate of shale gas is only slightly higher in comparison with conventional natural gas and significantly lower than coal, when currently available best technologies are used."
Hydraulic Fracturing makes it possible to produce oil and natural gas in places where conventional technologies are ineffective. To many it appears, that fracking has potentially unlocked massive new supplies of oil and clean-burning natural gas from dense deposits of shale, supplies that dramatically give rise to our country's energy security and improve the globe's ability to generate electricity, heat homes and power vehicles for generations to come. Hydraulic fracturing has also improved local economies by substantially generating royalty payments to property owners, providing tax revenues to the government and creating much-needed high-paying American jobs. Engineering and surveying, construction, hospitality, equipment manufacturing and environmental permitting are just some of the many different professions experiencing the positive ripple effects of increased oil and natural gas shale development.
Problems With Shale Gas
The aforementioned argument that places shale gas as a savior to the world's energy problems must be tempered with some of the more negative aspects of the practice to garner a finer appreciation of what is really at stake. There are indeed many problems with the hydraulic fracturing of shale to produce natural gas and many of these problems, if ignored, will place the environment and society in worse shape than it found itself before the experience.
The gas, oil and energy industry is steadfast in its opinions and beliefs that hydraulic fracturing and associated drilling practices are safe and pose no to very little threat to human and environmental health. The truth of this idea is suspect. Given the recent outbreak of media coverage about gas industry threats, it appears current gas operations are demonstrating a lot of the same type of hazardous practices and arrogant industry culture that led to the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Shale gas extraction is not different than other kinds of other types of energy extraction. Much like offshore drilling, gas operations occur in an environment where regulations are not heavily adhered to by its participants, having outpaced federal and state oversight and maintenance. The power of the energy lobby within the halls of Congress have shown that their power and influence is strong.
Advancements in extraction technologies, particularly horizontal drilling and high volume hydraulic fracturing have significantly allowed drilling companies to reach previously unreachable gas in geological formations underlying several areas of the U.S. where energy industry had been absent. There have been recent complaints, suggestions and reports about the dangers that unconventional gas drilling poses to drinking water supplies, public health and the global climate. These are important issues and discussing these ideas in public are raising important questions about how safe and clean this gas apparently is.
Scientists studying the impacts of unconventional gas drilling warn that gas is likely to have a greater influence on the water, air and climate than previously understood. As the practice of fracking continues, new and unrecognized information will develop as data and information is continually developed and published. Major scientific bodies have cautioned against a national commitment to gas as a bridge fuel, citing the need for further research into the potential consequences of continued reliance on this fossil fuel.
The potentially devastating impacts from unconventional gas development on water supplies, air quality and the global climate deserve much greater study and scrutiny. The emerging red flags of concern raised by scientists conducting research into unconventional gas threats clearly indicate that a precautionary approach is necessary. This is a necessary counter balance to the industrial instincts that seem to dominate the current rush to profits that are being experienced as a result of hydraulic fracturing of shale sediment into natural gas, fit for consumption and energy purposes.
Biello (2010) pointed out some of the finer details about how hydraulic fracturing of shale gas may provide some specific environmental costs. He suggested that the fluids that are involved in the process are contaminating the water supply in areas where this is happening. He wrote "It all comes down to the fact that fracking involves a…