Ministers in the United Kingdom recently approved explorative fracking by the company Cuadrilla – expanding the already growing industry under pressures to break ties with foreign oil. Cuadrilla had been stopped from explorative fracking due to two ominous tremors under the town of Blackpool, but this decision allows them to continue their efforts unhindered.
This decision comes among many others like it in countries that have limited oil reserves. This growth in activity has raised questions about how nations have placed their political priorities. The United States already is on the path to be a net energy exporter by 2030, according to World Energy Outlook 2012. This is a political victory as America moves towards its goal of energy independence, but it may come at the cost of ignoring many environmentally conscious policies.
Fracking is a process by which natural gas can be extracted from shale rock between about 3,000 to 15,000 feet underground. Water or other fluids are injected into the shale, fracturing it, and collecting the newly released natural gas, which was trapped in pores throughout the rock.
According to the National Wildlife Federation, fracking poses a wide array of potentially damaging effects. Release of greenhouse gases are one of those problems. While burning natural gas is cleaner than other fossil fuels, it still releases damaging greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. The process of extraction also exposes natural aquifers and other freshwater sources to contamination by the chemicals used in the process.
Another concern about the fracking process is the fact that many of the immediate and long-term effects have been grossly understudied. In spite of pressures to put more restrictions on the practice, there has been little effort to study and monitor the process for its environmental impact. In the U.S., companies that are fracking do not have to report any of the chemicals they are using, nor do they have many of the oversights other energy-producing companies do.
Many Western nations have been working to become independent energy users — an effort that would surely lead to reinforce their political leverage on the world stage. Developing nations have flouted environmental concerns as well, citing economic growth for their citizens as justification. Environmental concerns become heightened, however, by some of the dramatic effects of climate change that already have come to fruition. Droughts, fires, floods, and Superstorm Sandy have devastated huge swaths of the populated areas of the U.S. Arctic ice has melted to its lowest point on record. A new U.S. record for the hottest 12-month period was set in July 2012. In brief, recent climatological events line up right on track with what climatologists have predicted would come as a result of excessive carbon emissions.
Expansion of fracking activity today is hindering what already is a mostly stalled effort to curb humankind’s global environmental impact. This is accentuated by the face that every Kyoto nation has failed to meet some if not all of their treaty-related goals. Overall, the recent U.N. Climate Change Conference left representatives disappointed over a lack of real effort to curb emissions greenhouse gas emissions. Fracking activity actually is setting nations back from their Kyoto commitments.