Table of contents
- What is fracking and how it came about?
- So how do we do it?
- Why we should or should not use Fracking?
- Guiding the development of Fracking
Hydraulic fracturing or fracking is a technique used to extract non-renewable sources of energy such as oil and natural gas. This technique was developed because there are certain sources such as shales and subterranean rocks from which extraction cannot be done using existing methods known at the time of its invention.
What is fracking and how it came about?
Hydraulic fracturing is a technique in which a liquid mixture (containing certain chemical components and water) is injected into the rock which forcibly opens existing fissures and then we can extract oil and natural gas.
This technique was invented by Floyd Farris of Stanolind oil and gas corporation in 1947. J.B. Clark further studied this technique and published it in his research paper in 1948. Its first commercial successful application was done in 1950. After that Soviet Union carried out hydraulic fracturing in 1952 and subsequently other countries in Europe and Northern Africa started using this technique. After that, this technique was performed using high volumes of liquid mixture known as Massive hydraulic fracturing, which was first applied by Pan American Petroleum (an oil company) in Stephens country, Oklahoma, and the United States in 1968. Two or three years later after this, American geologists realized that there are large no of gas wells which have very low permeability, and as a result, Massive hydraulic fracturing started being used on a large scale. Hydraulic fracturing of shales(shale is a fine-grained sedimentary rock) started in 1965. In 1976 the United States government started the Eastern Gas Shales project which includes many public and private hydraulic fracturing project demonstrations. As of 2013 massive hydraulic fracturing of shales is being used on a commercial scale in the United States, Canada, and china. Many other countries are planning to use hydraulic fracturing.
So how do we do it?
- Drill a well.
- Use a high-pressure mixture of water, sand, and chemicals (Fracking fluid) to fracture the rock.
- Shale rock is a type of fine-grained sedimentary rock which can be a rich resource of natural gas. (It is a more unconventional source, now only used as more conventional sources have been exhausted.)
- The mixture usually (varies according to the size of the well) and consists of 2-8 million gallons of water, sand, and chemicals.
- The liquid is drained out but the sand keeps the fractures open.
- The natural gas coming out of the pores is extracted.
- Once the well has been drained of all its resources, the filtered liquid is put back into the well to fill up the fractures as best possible.
- The drilling process only lasts about 4-6 days.
- The well lasts about 20 years.
- Once the well is sucked dry, the disrupted area is landscaped.
Why we should or should not use Fracking?
- Natural gas is becoming an increasingly important part of power production. But the possible environmental consequences of using hydraulic fracturing force us to take that extra step of caution. We should continue to research cleaner energy sources while also trying to come up with improved environment-friendly ways to tap into these reserves using Fracking.
- Fracking is controversial because the chemicals that are mixed with water may find their way into groundwater reserves and as they can be very harmful, it’s indeed a cause of concern. Oil companies say that fracking is safe and presents no threat to drinking water. However, shareholders want companies to issue full disclosure about individual fracking operations and the chemicals used during the process.
- Recent advances in technology such as hydraulic fracturing have meant that access to this valuable resource is now feasible. This is because we are getting a far cleaner and more economic source of energy than its competitors. Even though gas is a fossil fuel in replacing coal for electricity, it can lead to reduced CO2 emissions.
- It is probably correct that we should try to avoid fossil use going out into a 30 or 40-year timeframe. But on the other hand, the global commonness and ubiquity of natural gas tell us that there is at least 200 years’ worth of supply and is therefore a huge resource.
- Fracking also creates job opportunities for the local people. For example in 2012, more than 1.2 million people in the US were provided with jobs at fracking sites.
- The two most important objections to this technology are its impact on the environment and that it is a short-term fix with a sell-by date.
- Fracking is becoming very controversial, with concerns about contamination of underground drinking water reserves and revelations of surface water contamination by the wastewater (and possibly the existence of radioactive elements) which is a by-product of drilling.
- Fracking also produces smog-forming pollutants, contributing to air pollution. Also, these shale gas wells raise concerns about fugitive methane, which is a potent global warming pollutant.
In what ways are these arguments connected to different cultural values prevalent in society in general and technological spaces in particular? Further, in what ways can you connect these ethical positions to what you think is the culture of technological spaces?
The ways in which these arguments are connected to different cultural values prevalent in society in general and technological spaces, in particular, are the following. The argument that Fracking can pollute water resources and soil in nearby areas reflects the general value of health and safety in society. This value can be seen in almost all societies and cultures around the globe. In a similar fashion, the fracking process is polluting not only water and soil but also polluting air and because of this, the resistance it faces reflects the cultural value of environmental safety in society in general.
We can also observe the concept of “ Belief about resources” through the process of fracking in an indirect way. It is said that in fracking we extract out natural gas which is a way cleaner and green source of energy also, as far as the quantity of natural gas left on earth is concerned, it is predicted that it is enough to last for another 200 years. Now, this argument clearly reflects the attitude of “ we will find a way ” which is generally pre-dominant in technological spaces and now because of the popularity of highly effective scientific techniques to combat problems, it has also become a belief of some people in general society also (probably). We are happy that natural gas is going to last for 200 years but why are we not worried about what will we do afterward? We know that there is no need to worry because we will find a way! (hopefully)
Another cultural value connected to these arguments is political values and power arrangements in a particular society. Fracking is good or wrong is a different question but what is going on is the fact of life! It reflects that people in support of fracking are having better power relations than those who oppose it.
Now, we will discuss some values that are present in technological spaces and are connected to protecting deleted Life! It reflects that people in support of fracking are having better power relations than those who oppose it. Now, we will discuss some values that are present in technological spaces and are connected to fracking.
The first one is the value of having a “Culture of expertise”. It is argued that fracking is one of the only ways to extract natural gas from hard rocks. Please note the word argued, It is just argued, but probably we can also find better ways to extract natural gas from hard rocks by doing some research. But someone trained in fracking will always try to find fracking as the best solution because he is an expert in fracking and according to him, it is the best way to do the extraction process. He might be tunnel-visioned and might not even think that other ways and techniques could be found.
Another technical value connected to fracking is efficiency-related value. Technical people are highly concerned about technology, generally. As most of the natural gas is recovered in the process, it is highly efficient and also profitable. Fracking also hints at the fact that many times Halfway technologies are produced in technological spaces.
Fracking leads to pollution and henceforth can be thought of as some part of halfway technologies.
Now, we will discuss the ways in which we can connect these ethical positions to what we think of the culture of technological spaces. We think along similar lines as discussed in the above section that the culture in technological spaces is that people who are involved in technological works want to produce technologies that are helpful for the welfare of society, they try to find new and effective ways to an existing problem although, the solution may be guided by certain values like the technology might be a product of tunnel visioning, might be a forceful application of one’s personal knowledge which might give the inventor a sense of joy, or the technology might be a result of an urge to find a solution, even if it is halfway. Also, not only technical values but, technological spaces are also influenced by political values and systems and power arrangements present around.
In fracking also, we can observe that it is a very efficient and profitable way of extraction. Almost all of the natural gas is recovered in this process, so it is efficient and also natural gas is a very good source of energy. Economically also it is sound as it results in profitable returns. But there are health and environmental concerns, so still it is sort of a halfway solution, but is still being applied with full force as the people trained in fracking might not be able to think of a different solution because of tunnel visioning, they are expert in that work and are following a culture of expertise, and also Power relations between government and industry might be supporting it.
Guiding the development of Fracking
The Drilling Down Series of Articles from The New York Times examines the risks of natural-gas drilling. Disturbing revelations by an investigation1 done by The New York Times raised concerns that natural gas production could lead to pollution of our rivers and streams. We do know that we need a full investigation into exactly how fracking is done and what its effects are on drinking water and our environment.
As The New York Times detailed, there are concerns regarding inadequate testing for radium in municipal and industrial plants that treat drilling wastewater as they are not designed to remove such pollution
The Center for American Progress advised such a cautious approach in an August 2009 report written by CAP president and CEO John Podesta and United Nations Foundation president Timothy E. Wirth. They recommend a comprehensive EPA analysis-
“Any proposal to incentivize the development of natural gas must also address the potential health and global warming impacts of developing this resource. It makes little sense to encourage natural gas use as a lower greenhouse gas alternative to coal or oil combustion if natural gas production yields sizeable amounts of toxic, air, or global warming pollution. As a first step, the EPA must undertake a comprehensive scientific analysis of the air, land, water, and global warming impacts from natural gas production, including a lifecycle greenhouse gas analysis.”
Another critical issue is the total carbon pollution resulting from natural gas production. What we need is a definitive new study of the lifecycle of greenhouse gas emissions (from extraction to distribution, to use to release into the atmosphere) from natural gas, one that takes into account changing industry practices as shale gas becomes more important and takes care estimating fugitive methane emissions from sources such as leaky pipes and valves. It is imperative to ensure that we don’t exacerbate one issue while trying to solve the other
Possible Actions to achieve more certainty on that point include:
- Full public disclosure of the chemicals used in the process is required and what happens to wastewater from withdrawal from wells to its disposal
- Improving our scientific understanding of Hydraulic fracturing.
- Providing regulatory clarity and protections against known risks and ensuring the safe management of wastewater, stormwater, and other wastes.
- Adequate testing for radioactive elements and other contaminants in wastewater should be mandatory near drill sites
- Air and Water emission limits are required
- Capturing fugitive methane is important and should be made mandatory
- A comprehensive and credible study of the lifecycle of greenhouse gas emissions is needed