While countries all over the globe have been working diligently to act in a more responsible manner when it comes to energy production and carbon emissions, there are still many barriers in place effectively preventing or delaying the necessary switch to sustainable sources of energy. One of these barriers takes the form of hydraulic fracturing — more colloquially known as “fracking” — a process that targets otherwise inaccessible reserves of oil and gas.
In the United States, Marlon Kobacker points out, the use of fracking has played a sizable role in reducing the cost of gas, with proponents of its use suggesting that carbon emissions are drastically reduced when compared to the energy generated through coal. These same proponents also suggest that fracking can be accomplished safely and that any pollution caused by the process is due to improper methods rather than issues with the process itself. There have been concerns raised that the process may contaminate the groundwater in the area and could release chemicals with carcinogenic properties into a local water supply.
The issue of fracking was broached at a recent presidential debate between the two democratic candidates, and the manner in which the subject was discussed only served to highlight the unknowns regarding the long-term consequences of such a process. Though one candidate, Bernie Sanders, definitively declared his position against the practice of fracking, Hillary Clinton suggested that she supported the process provided it was done safely. While the latter position is certainly fair, it’s also worth noting that the total environmental cost may not be known until many years from now.
It’s not entirely clear whether it is even possible for fracking to be done safely, particularly given the general misunderstanding regarding the potential long-term consequences of this practice. Since fracking is mostly done in just a few highly concentrated areas, there are still many people who are largely unfamiliar with what the practice entails and what environmental damage can result. One study, according to Marlon Kobacker, concluded that there was a very high probability that fracking was the cause of two recent earthquakes in the United Kingdom measured at magnitudes of 1.5 and 2.2.
This is not the only issue with fracking, however. Since fracking has indeed been successful in reducing the price of gas by accessing previously untapped gas and oil reserves, some of the financial incentive to switch to cleaner, renewable sources of energy has largely been removed. Legislators may have been more likely to enact widespread changes aimed at reducing carbon emissions if the cost of gasoline was still exceptionally high, but they are now finding it harder to drum up the kind of public support necessary to shift away from fossil fuels during a time in which the price has dropped so precipitously.