Definition of Terms
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Fracking, or Hydraulic Fracturing is a method used to extract underground resources including oil, natural gas, and geothermal energy by injecting high pressure fluid into a geologic formation containing oil or natural gas deposits. The high pressure fluid opens up existing fractures and creates new fracture systems that allow the resources that were once trapped to move more freely into a production well for further extraction.
Shale gas is defined by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) as natural gas that is trapped within shale formations. Shale formations are geologic formations that contain hydrocarbon mixtures that naturally form an underground reservoir.
A U.S. Ban on hydraulic fracturing for shale gas production would prohibit the U.S. energy industry from extracting shale gas from geologic structures in the U.S. via fracking. It would also prohibit the recovery and refinement natural gas from wells at hydraulic fracking production sites within the U.S.
The use of hydraulic fracturing in the U.S. has greatly expanded the ability of the energy industry to efficiently recover natural gas and oil from geological structures with low-permeability, such as shale rock. Extracting gas and oil from shale increases the availability of this resource for exploitation by U. S. energy companies; however, there are many health and environmental risks associated with hydraulic fracturing. Are these risks too high? Do they outweigh the promise of enhanced domestic energy production? These are the questions surrounding the current hydraulic fracturing debate.
Natural gas production in the U.S. has increased from 1.0 trillion cubic feet in 2006 to 4.8 trillion cubic feet of total U.S. natural gas production in 2010 which brought the U.S. natural gas reserves to their highest level since 1971 (EIA, 2011). Clearly, natural gas has enhanced our domestic energy production, which may reduce our dependence on foreign energy in the future. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), natural gas “has the potential to improve air quality, stabilize energy prices, and provide greater certainty about future energy reserves”, if properly produced. If these resources are improperly managed, fracking may result in increased stress on surface and groundwater supplies, potential contamination of drinking water, and compromised water quality (EPA, 2011). Additionally, methane leakage during shale gas production may outweigh the air quality benefits of the lower carbon dioxide emission from natural gas combustion.
There are many uncertainties and potential long-term impacts of employing fracking techniques for natural gas extraction and production in the U.S. On the other hand, hydraulic fracturing provides a relatively clean energy source, and the EIA expects that shale gas, extracted via hydraulic fracturing, will account for approximately 45...