Saturday, March 02, 2013

Fracking: the New Villain

There now seems to be a new villain in the energy scene and it is fracking (hydraulic fracturing) which is mainly used for extracting shale gas (natural gas) that was previously inaccessible.
If there was ever an energy extraction technique that was born to a concerted effort against it from all quarters it is precisely fracking. Hey! There is even a Matt Damon movie out there denouncing the process and the whole industry!
Is fracking that bad? Does it really have so many issues? The short answer is yes, fracking has all sorts of negative consequences: loads of water are required in the process, chemicals are injected into the ground, there has been some drinking water contamination, etc., etc. However, before unanimously condemning fracking we have to ask ourselves what the natural gas produced with this technique is replacing. Once we make this question, and particularly when we answer it, things begin to look better.
So, here is the question: what is the natural gas produced by fracking replacing (mostly)?
Answer: coal.
Coal is the worst fossil fuel in almost any facet we wish to consider:
     Extracting it is not only dangerous for the miners, but often highly destructive for the environment (e.g. "mountaintop removal" in the USA).
     Per unit of energy produced, coal emits more carbon dioxide than any of the other main fossil fuels.
     Coal emits other important pollutants such as mercury, sulfur and even radioactivity (believe it or not, a coal power plant emits more radioactivity to the environment during operation than an equivalent nuclear one).
     Atmospheric visibility can be greatly affected with the soot produced by burning coal.  China is often in the news lately due to its extreme air pollution.
     Loads of ash are left behind after the combustion process and these have to be disposed of (sometimes with catastrophic consequences when a depot bursts into a river).

Through the replacement of coal by shale gas, the USA is actually reducing its carbon emissions faster than almost any other major nation in the world.
So, we SHOULD NOT compare fracking with the "perfect energy source" (which by the way, doesn't exist) and condemn it off the bat.  No, fracking is mostly replacing the dirtiest and most dangerous energy source: coal.
Thus, fracking is cleaner, safer, and consequently better than the alternative.
Conclusion: we should embrace fracking, at least in the short and medium term while we develop an even better and viable energy source.

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At 4:13 PM, Blogger Merlin Gackle said...

I am in total agreement. Having seen it in action, I can assure the benefits far out way the environmental risks.

Merlin R Gackle


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