So you keep hearing about ‘fracking’ and ‘the Keystone XL pipeline’ and stuff, but what’s all the kerfuffle really about? Well, here’s a simple explanation to a complex problem so you can sound super smart at the pub!
So what exactly is fracking?
Not all oil and gas is buried deep beneath the earth in seams that can be tapped into by drilling. Sometimes these reserves can be found in shale deposits and are far more difficult to extract. With the rising price of oil, fracking has become a viable option and can be utilized to extract both oil and natural gas.
Fracking is actually a slang term for hydraulic fracturing. During fracking, cracks are created in rocks and rock formations. This is accomplished by injecting fluid into existing voids until they break open. The fluids are pumped down into the rocks to create larger fissures. Oil and gas from the surrounding shale flows into the fissures and forced down into the bored well, from where it can be extracted.
According to Solarline Power: “We are not entirely sure what impact fracking has on the environment as the cocktail of chemicals used in the process has been deemed a ‘trade secret’… Fracking has also been linked to water pollution, earthquakes and the destruction of pristine environments. New studies show that the chemical cocktail used in fracking will leach into groundwater aquifers sooner than expected. France and Bulgaria have banned fracking in reaction to environmental concerns, but the practice is still enjoying unprecedented growth in the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, China and other countries.”
Why is it bad?
The biggest objections to fracking are related to the destruction of the environment, and the air and water pollution that results from escaping natural gas and the cocktail of fracking fluids that leach into the groundwater and surrounding landscape. Pollution is not confined to the areas where fracking is taking place. The transportation of fracking fluids often results in spills while the Keystone pipeline, which runs from the Alberta oil sands in Canada through the United States, is drawing criticism from environmental groups who are concerned about the consequences a rupture in the pipeline would have on the environment.
While oil and gas companies fob off environmental concerns and attempt to switch focus to the enormous advantage North American countries can garner from being energy-independent, environmentalists warn that a distinct lack of environmental impact studies on fracking, coupled with a lack of research into the effects the fracking chemicals have on the environment, mean that we are taking a giant leap backwards in terms of environmental safety. If you thought gas and oil mining has been messy thus far, we may be in for an even rougher ride.
The truth is that we have no idea what happens with the fracking fluids once they have performed their role in extraction. Heck, we don’t even know what kind of chemicals they may contain and what effect they may have on our groundwater and food chain, let along the petroleum products they carry with them into the groundwater. We have no idea the extent impact fracking is having and, by the time we do, it may be too late. Fracking is certainly not the panacea to energy needs that proponents would have us believe.
The Keystone XL Pipeline
The XL pipeline is one that aims to bring oil from the tar sands in Alberta Canada to several places in the US. It’s called the XL because the Keystone pipeline already exists, piping oil from Alberta, two locations in Illinois and one in Oklahoma at a rate of 500,000 barrels a day.
The XL version of the Keystone will extend the pipeline from Alberta to Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska, south from Oklahoma through Texas, and on to the coast.
The major objection to the pipeline is that it runs through some pristine environmental areas and through the Ogalala aquifer in Nebraska which supplies water to two million people and about $20 billion in agriculture. Oil spills (they average about 12 a year with the current Keystone pipeline) are fairly common and that’s the main objection to this pipeline.
In a nutshell
While fracking does provide a fairly local source of oil, creating jobs and reducing our dependence on foreign oil, extracting tar sands oil through fracking takes a lot of energy and has a devastating environmental impact in terms of air and water pollution. The Keystone pipeline causes oil spills which destroys local environments and even when the oil reaches its US destinations, it has to be refined which also results in air pollution.
Take Action: Visit the Americans Against Fracking page if you live in the US to see what action you can take. If you are in Canada, take action here.
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