Last spring I did a pretty thorough look into fracking so here a copy. Necessarily due to the length it is broken into multiple parts. Here are the links for all parts: Fracking: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, Citations.
This paper describes information, history, small surveys, more sufficient research and some independent statistical analysis. The bigger question: What does the bigger picture look like? Perhaps it is best to step back and reexamine the three P’s. Private corporations, especially oil companies, are interested in the economics of the $65,000,000,000,000 debate. Oil companies are well positioned to earn huge profits from the presumed fracking boom. The actual $65 trillion is the wholesale value of oil and gas assets. Once taxed and resold, the economic influence of fuel fracking is magnified. Further, when the money earned from fracking is paid to investors and employees, the economic influence expands to the international economy. Quantifying this effect further down is more difficult and relies on various assumptions.
Opposite private industry sit health and environment groups, non-governmental organizations and individuals. The concern they share is that there is unknown potential to hurt people and/or the environment. Chemicals are introduced to the environment via fracking with possible long-term unknown risks We could be causing much more harm than we are aware, a valid concern since the information really didn’t receive major attention publically until recently. Currently, a person can use their computer and perform a search for “fracking water on fire” and watch videos of people lighting their well water on fire due to methane contamination. There have been incidents of trucks spilling while transporting frackwater. The number of ‘alleged’ incidents where harm has been caused by fracking are quite numerous. It would be folly to not consider them when examining the entire picture of fracking.
Finally, there are the politicians; This group is more difficult to define. They come from different backgrounds and have different motives to satisfy their constituents. They are also the ones who make the final decisions. But, they answer to the public. Historically, this group in bipartisan fashion has supported, or at least not opposed, fracking. Though they have, in 2010, ordered a reexamination of the subject. This is likely the result of the increased public prevalence of fracking. In a sense the politicians are finally starting to feel the public backlash for perceived lax regulation without adequate science.
Jumbled inside the triangle of the three p’s is the general public, the people who would enjoy high paying jobs and other benefits. These same people are the shareholders of oil companies. Every aspect from the foundation of the economy to the CEO’s of oil companies will feel at least a small impact from petroleum from fracking: bread prices, heating cost (for natural gas) or any other consumable, the same people who will carry the weight of the environmental or health costs. The same people who will lose their farms if they are contaminated by an accident. What about the next Ohio earthquake it could pass 8.0 on the Richter scale causing vast damages to life and property. Working Americans elect the politicians, and currently these people are uninformed about the topic of fracking (Boudet et al, 2014).
Once informed; will the health and environmental lobby win or will private industry win? It is probably best to not look at it as winners and losers. Rather, the effort should be to make the best decision with everyone’s interests in mind. The key is public education. Whoever can educate the public correctly and first, giving them the opportunity to instill their beliefs will allow one group or the other to gain an advantage in the debate. An adequately regulated policy that allows companies to profitably access these resources while being stringent enough to protect the health of everyone involved is best for all. The best interests of everyone is to approach this conservatively in a way that prevents harm to people and the environment.
Some specific improvements that each of the three P’s can use to improve:
Fracking companies need to be more transparent, especially concerning the chemical makeup of their slurries. They could also proceed a little more conservatively and help financially fund the research as a good faith effort to help determine where safety improvements can be implemented. Finally, private industry could take a pro-regulation stance instead of lobbying for exemptions that only serve to raise the suspicions of the public.
Public Health and Environmental Organizations:
These organizations exist to protect our health and our environment. However, these groups would do well to remember that private companies are in the business of making money and providing resources or a product. Telling a company that just spent hundreds of millions that they need to shut it down will be ill received. Perhaps they could be more open to discussing specific process improvements to make fracking safer and more efficient while improving health and safety protections.
Politicians are stuck between the two factions. In the past they have been able to let the other segments of the three P’s and make whatever decision they chose. However, now that public awareness is increasing it will become more and more important that keep their constituents best interests, and what the constituents think are their best interests, in mind.
There is a hidden fourth party. The media which can participate and be beneficial in this process and in fact seem to be doing just that. The increase in publications seems to confirm media and other literary outlets are well aligned with public interest as indicated by Google Trends.
In conclusion this is not a simple problem where one side is right and the other side is wrong. There is no simple test for the best course of action. Rather, it is a problem of maximizing the gain while minimizing the damage to achieve the maximum combined results for the long term. This will require concessions from each of the three P’s. Currently no side seems willing to concede enough ground to make a substantial difference. Hopefully, the increasing public interest will push the three P’s into a more cohesive relationship where real steps can be made in the best direction. The soon-to-be-released EPA study ordered by congress in 2010, could be the turning point in this debate which pushes everyone towards a safe and prosperous future.