Fracking is a term many have heard across the news lately in debates of whether it can be a viable form of clean energy in the future. There is no doubt that the process of hydraulic fracturing has the potential provide a large amount of energy resources across the U.S. and U.K. but some consider that it may be more of an environmentally influence than previously thought. Despite the debates many citizens may be casting votes in favor or against the legislation to expand the hydraulic fracturing industry.
So what is hydraulic fracking and how does it work? The process of hydraulic fracturing is actually a pretty innovative one which can gather “hidden” deposits of oil and natural gas from pores in shale rock, deep below the surface. Shale is typically formed from clay deposits and pieces of larger rocks in a process called compaction. During this process energy resources can become caught in pockets of air which later form pores on the shale rock. The goal of hydraulic fracking is to harvest deposits of fossil fuels that may be contained in these pores.
The first step of the process is to drill 7,000 ft or deeper below the surface where shale is typically formed. Jets of water are pumped down pipes which create horizontal fractures in the shale rock then mixtures of water, sand and other chemicals are sprayed into the fissures. Petroleum and natural gas are released from the shale pores and can be pumped directly into wells, but sometimes their residue is bonded to the sand with the chemical reagents which can be extracted later. The production of shale energy is formed around extracting natural gas pumped back up into storage tanks where they can be extracted through further process of chemistry and engineering.
The overall process of producing shale energy with hydraulic fracking to extract fossil fuels from shale rock may seem simplistic in theory, however the processes of chemistry and engineering that came together to discover this energy resource are actually fairly innovative. Despite this discovery of new applications of science to produce energy supplies, there has been fierce debate of the process citing that it is hazardous to the environment.
Some cases in the U.S. showed that natural gas seeping out of the pumps of fracking sites contaminating water supplies not only injecting toxins into drinking supplies but causing unsafe levels of natural gas in the vicinity. Although cases such as these can most like be avoided by increasing fortifications on the engineering behind the fracking sites more disturbing evidence of environmental side effects may have been found in the U.K.
In 2011 all hydraulic fracturing in Britain was suspended due to three earthquakes believed to have been caused by water entering fault lines. The company conducting the fracking came forward to say they were most likely caused by their operations which led to the Department of Energy and Climate Change to ask for additional independent geological surveys. The results of the assessments all concluded that there was a great likely hood that the earthquakes were in fact a result hydraulic fracturing close to fault lines. Despite the evidence the earthquakes were fairly insignificant in size and weren’t believed to have caused any structural damages to the nearby vicinity.
Although evidence is still fairly scarce to support the true extent of the environmental stability of hydraulic fracturing, energy from shale will most likely remain as an option for energy production in the future. With the discoveries of new alternative energy resources it is interesting to see which trends, renewable or cost effective, will drive energy policies in countries around the world throughout the coming decades.