Fracking appears to have been a major success in the US, but are the industry claims consistent with the facts?
And as fracking companies look to expand their operations into Europe and Asia, are they really giving decision-makers and the general public the full economic and environmental story?
1. The fracking boom is temporary
Despite promising decades of continuing economic benefits, a peak in US shale oil production is likely to be reached this decade. Once the peak in production is reached, sharp year on year declines are to be expected.
2. The economic case is dwindling
Remember the tech bubble? Well the fracking industry is beginning to show very similar signs. Already there is a heavy reliance on debt, with revenues from production failing to cover operating costs. Early investors may well have profited, but the returns for later investors look set to be far less rosy.
3. Shale gas wells have significant decline rates
Production from shale gas wells typically show declines of 80 to 95 percent in the first 36 months of operation. To keep up with these massive declines, more wells need to be relentlessly drilled. Of course at some point, further drilling becomes energy and cost inefficient.
4. Fracking relies on colossal amounts of water
Up to 60 million gallons of water (enough to fill 120 Olympic-sized swimming pools) may be required for a single well-pad cluster. In a world growing perilously short of water, can we really afford to use this amount? Although much of the water can be recycled, this does not happen without it first being contaminated by various added chemicals.
5. Say goodbye to fresh air
Drilling activity and truck traffic can significantly degrade local air quality. Toxic compounds potentially released include: benzene, butane, ethane, hydrogen sulfide, pentane, propane, toluene and xylene. Would you be happy for your children to breathe these in?
6. You may not want to drink the local water
Although more research is needed, findings to date suggest that fracking and water safety are not a good combination. For example, a report published in 2011 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed drinking water samples from 68 wells in the Marcellus and Utica shale plays were contaminated with excess methane. The study further showed that average methane concentrations were 17 times higher in wells close to active fracking sites, compared to those in inactive areas.
7. Earthquakes have been linked to fracking
Despite industry denials, earthquakes have been linked to fracking. One example is from Oklahoma, where fracking treatments were documented as causing multiple earthquakes. Another example from the UK, showed a ‘high probability’ that shale gas test drilling was linked to tremors in the Lancashire area. The latter example was so alarming that all UK fracking operations were suspended between June 2011 and April 2012.
8. From agricultural land to wasteland
Drilling for shale gas or oil can have serious negative impacts on farm land. Heavy metals such as arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, lead and mercury have been found in soils located near drilling sites. Livestock and wildlife can also be affected. They are attracted by the salty taste of fracking fluids and wastewater. Unfortunately these are poisons, and often the animals die outright or suffer serious health issues including: loss of reproductive function, stillbirths and birth defects of their young.
9. Profits before environmental concerns
Fracking companies are businesses. They are financed by investors and shareholders who have one primary purpose – to make money. It would be naive to believe that the care of our environment is one of their major concerns.
10. Some countries have outright bans on fracking
If fracking is as environmentally safe and economically beneficial as claimed, then why have Bulgaria, France and Luxembourg chosen to implement complete bans on its operation? And these countries are just the first. As more scientific evidence comes forward on the dangers of fracking, it is highly likely that more countries will legislate to prevent its operation on their land.
11. Jobs are not as plentiful as claimed
The fracking industry promises massive work opportunities, but the reality is somewhat less exciting. Since 2003, oil and gas jobs jobs have accounted for less than 1/20th of 1 percent of the overall US job market. Furthermore, numerous industry-funded studies include strippers and prostitutes as new jobs created by the spread of fracking!
12. The Hidden Equation
You won’t hear this discussed much, but there is a key ratio which we should all know about: Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROEI). In simple terms, this describes the amount of usable energy acquired from a particular energy resource, to the amount of energy expended to obtain that energy resource. Shale oil has a ratio of 5, compared to conventional oil’s ratio of 20. This reflects the fact that it takes around 4 times the amount of input energy to extract shale oil as it does conventional oil.
13. There are alternative forms of energy available
Clean and increasingly cost-efficient alternatives are already available in the form of renewable energy. Once fully adopted, wind and solar technologies will be able to supply our energy needs, while at the same time allowing us to live far more harmoniously with nature.
Fracking appears to be a false promise of plenty.
Oil and Gas extracted using these methods is neither cheap, clean or infinite. As the environmental case against fracking grows stronger, regulations will strengthen, and the economics of fracking will become even less favourable.
Fracking may have provided a respite in US energy prices, but don’t expect this to last much longer. It is also doubtful that fracking will be as readily adopted by other countries as it was in the US.
The world will be a better place without fracking. Let’s focus instead on reducing and optimising our energy usage, and on supplying our energy needs through clean and renewable sources.