Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Fracking Debate

We're discussing environmental ethics in my class this week.  One issue that I find fascinating (and to be a good model for how to think about other environmental issues) has to do with hydraulic fracturing ("fracking"). It's difficult to find reliable, unbiased material online dealing with the environmental/moral issues related to fracking.  Here is a song critical of the drilling process.  And here's the trailer for Gassland, a documentary/film from 2010 that is similarly critical of fracking. Of course, there are those that contend that fracking isn't so problematic. For example, see this interview on reason.tv. What do you think about fracking?  Is this a morally acceptable way to extract natural gas?  What argument(s) do you find most compelling?

27 comments:

Miles Jeon said...

I'm completely against fracking because of my hate for natural gas. After taking multiple environmental studies classes, I've always viewed natural gas as a wannabe solution. Sure, the carbon emissions are lower, but we are still emitting carbon. Making things more "efficient" seems to give us the idea that we can use more electricity and energy. It's that kind of mentality that defeats the purpose of sustainability. However, your article makes me wonder why coal mining still exists when we could frack instead. I don't like the idea of fracking AND coal mining, but replacing coal mining with fracking... that's a different story. We would reduce our carbon emissions, and that would be a step forward. I still believe that renewable energy and a dramatic reduction in consumption is our only solution, but I'm realistic in knowing that we aren't quite there yet.

I think that fracking is morally acceptable as long as it is done in a very clean, and healthy way. As long as corners aren't cut, I do think we could frack in a healthy way. However, if corners are cut and wells are polluted, the act at once would be morally unacceptable.

Heather Wittrock said...

I think hydraulic fracturing, although a better alternative to coal, is not the best solution. It would reduce our dependency on foreign sources and it would create jobs (sort of). The jobs it would create would be for those already in the oil and gas industry and not where it is otherwise needed. Cleaner alternatives are available. That whole Chesapeake Bay Watershed thing really irks me. I think it is a big mistake to take such a risk, cut corners, and be greedy when so much is at stake.

I can say right now from what I have learned, I would say that no, fracking is not a morally acceptable way to extract the gas. I say this because peoples lives are being affected negatively, their happiness, well-being, health, and future are all at risk. The effects of contamination could be felt years down the road and more peoples lives are going to be affected negatively. Not to mention irreversible damage it can do to the environment.

Lik Sheng Ooi said...

I do not know the actual harm that natural gas does to the environment so I do not have a strong feeling against fracking. To my knowledge, natural gas produces less greenhouse gas and it's more efficient than coal. But either way, I agree with the idea that why aren't we changing from coal to natural gas? Even if natural gas is as bad as Miles said, it does seem like it is the lesser of the two evils. What about the ill effects of coal mining? I think the main reason that natural gas mining is getting the attention because it is done near residential areas and it is affecting the residents. If the fracking area is as alienated as a coal mine, none of these would even make the news. We, as a society, are ignorant towards the harm that we are causing to the environment unless they are close or they directly harm us. We are practising a "hear no evil, see no evil" attitude and that should change. We should tackle all the environmental issues equally and consistently.

Chen Huey Tsan said...

I don't think that fracking is the best solution to extract natural gas. Fracking requires mixing gallons of water, sand and toxic chemicals to form fracking fluid which is injected to the ground at high pressure. I think the fracking fluid has a high risk of leaking into the ground through the pipes which in turn, pollutes the water and killing the underground organisms. If there is any major leakages, it is hard to stop the chemicals from seeping through since the pipes are drilled deep into the ground. This becomes a great threat to the residents living around the area because they are drinking poisonous water.

I believe there is always other safer alternatives to generate energy such as wind and water. Until and unless fracking can be done safely without any chances of leakages, fracking should not be a morally permissible act.

Jake Seymer said...

I am not against fracking as long as it could be executed with procedures that minimize environmental damage. From what I've read the pipe structure needs to be properly reinforced conditional on each different location to prevent leakage. Also, I think that the gas companies could come up with a better short term storage process than simply laying a tarp on the ground. That's just cutting corners to save money. If anything they could install a metal tank for storage or dig a pool and reinforce it with concrete. The other big thing necessary for this to work is that the companies need to take responsibility for any incidents that do take place. If groundwater is contaminated, they need to stick around after drilling and take steps to try to purify it or offer the residents compensation. I think that the benefits are too many to be stopped by a lack of motivation on the corporate side to reduce potential damage to the environment. They could do so safely if they spend a little more money on it. Finally most of what I said is speculative on what little information is available. It is important that there is some research done to determine the extend of damage that fracking is actually causing, and that such research be done independent of the gas companies who would surly report biased information.

Su Jia Wong said...

Even though the practice of fracking to extract natural gas is better than coal mining, I still think that fracking is not a morally acceptable way to extract natural gas. This is because fracking violates the rights of human and welfare of animals.

Fracking creates incredible dangers to the environment. Liquid of various chemicals are injected into the earth at high pressure. This causes the walls to explode and the water from fracking to flow to water treatment plants at a scale far beyond their capacity. This results in contaminated water which seriously affects human health and animals welfare. The livelihood of farmers are affected as well when the landscapes are being destroyed.

While the corporations are making huge profits from energy production, the health of people, welfare of animals and cleanliness of environment are affected terribly. It is true that corporations have the autonomy to extract natural gas, but they are doing that at the expenses of other people. This means that they are violating the autonomy of human and animals to have a clean environment. Thus, the intention to look for renewable energy such as solar and wind energy is still much needed.

Yuan Xu said...

Even though fracking may bring lots of problems, I am still in the campaign of supporting fracking. According to the interview on reason.tv, extracting natural gas does not bring polluted drinking water. Even though it is possible that digging wrong may let natural gas go into the water, it is not technology problems. Based on Utilitarianism, people should take actions that bring the maximize overall happiness.

Natural gas is a clean energy which will bring a lot of economic and environmental benefits. Comparing prons and cons, I think it is morally acceptable to extract natural gas. Also, there should be a middle-ground. Whichever companies fracking, they should make sure to control the cost and harm as little as possible.

Yeet Chien Tan said...

Weighing the pros and cons OF fracking, I agree that it is a better alternative to coal but it is not the best. Anyhow, if there are only the two available options, I would choose fracking over coal.

Economically, fracking is also better. For example, for short term economic interest, fracking can decrease the unemployment rate by creating more jobs and decrease the natural gas prices. Environmentally, it is cleaner than coal. Therefore, I would say that I am not totally object the idea of fracking. In fact, I think consequentialist will support it as it maximizes more total goodness as compared to other alternatives.

Finally, I would suggest that more reliable research should be carried out to confirm the pros and cons. Having those research, it can be determined whether it is a morally acceptable way to extract natural gas or not.

Zhen Ming said...

There are many pros and cons to the process of fracking. However, in my opinion, I believe that fracking is not a good solution considering the potential hazard it might create. For example, the use of brine and acid can pollute nearby underground water supplies, which can be dangerous to villagers. Moreover, if a contamination is breached, it can be very hard to stop due to the fact that it’s spreading underground all over the place. In addition, the process creates methane that contributes to global warming that damages the environment. Nevertheless, if the fracking process can be controlled to manageable extends, and then it should be encouraged. Fracking lowers the price on energy, which becomes beneficial to poor people. However, in the long run and through the advancement of technology, it is more likely that we should look for alternative, cheap, renewable resources to replace fracking to solve the global energy problem.

Robert Broome said...

Even though there are some various downsides to fracking, such as ground water contamination, the release of methane into the earth’s atmosphere and other health/environmental impacts, I think that fracking is morally acceptable. All of the consequence of fracking listed above, appear to be the result of incompetency’s of energy companies rather than being an issue with fracking itself. According the reason.tv interview, the technology of fracking as far as we know is completely safe. As such, I think fracking is morally acceptable, especially due to the multiple benefits that come from fracking. Natural gas fracking provides us with a much cleaner source of energy than coal, and the supply of natural gas will last for at least the next hundred years. The economic benefits and other benefits that come about from the energy we use from natural gas are plentiful (no need to provide a laundry list of those benefits). Most of the problems that come from fracking are avoidable and can be limited with tighter regulations and industry reform. If we were able to successfully reform the natural gas fracking industry, I think the benefits would far outweigh the costs, and as such fracking would be morally permissible.

Kah Yee Yap said...

I am not familiar with the practice of fracking until I read “The Facts on Fracking”. Just by understanding the pros and cons of fracking from the article alone, I think the harms outweigh the benefits in the long run, looking from a utilitarian point of view. Thus, I would say that it is not morally acceptable but it should not be banned entirely while we have not yet found the best alternative source of energy other than coal which emits more carbon into the atmosphere and is comparably more costly. In light of incidents like Pennsylvania which carry out industry practices that help in alleviating the negative environmental effects caused by fracking, I think companies should learn from them and seek for methods to extract natural gas in a safer way. There might be unforeseen, yet possibly imminent, threats to the environment but until then, I do not want to be too harsh and prohibit fracking completely.

I prefer not to lean to either argument and adopt a more neutral and pragmatic attitude towards fracking. However, I look forward to some alternatives sources of energy which cause the least harmful consequences to the environment and at the same time, are more affordable. There might not be such thing but as long as the fracking practice is done in a way that contributes to as little damage as it can to the global environment, I would not give an absolute “No” on fracking.

Anonymous said...

Before this class, I have never heard about fracking. So, I honestly do not have any moral opinion on this issue. I see that some people are weighing pros and cons to decide whether it is morally good or bad. And, I find the pros outweighing the cons. However, that is not to say that I find fracking morally permissible. I think the scientist in the video clip mentioned NIMBY. I think that is exactly what it is. If I am an resident of the area designated for fracking, I would strongly oppose it even if the possibility of leaking is small. But, if it is a next town, I would welcome it. Just like we have a Korean saying “what is romance for me is adultery for you” (if that makes sense at all).

Woojai Jang said...

Before this class, I have never heard about fracking. So, I honestly do not have any moral opinion on this issue. I see that some people are weighing pros and cons to decide whether it is morally good or bad. And, I find the pros outweighing the cons. However, that is not to say that I find fracking morally permissible. I think the scientist in the video clip mentioned NIMBY. I think that is exactly what it is. If I am an resident of the area designated for fracking, I would strongly oppose it even if the possibility of leaking is small. But, if it is a next town, I would welcome it. Just like we have a Korean saying “what is romance for me is adultery for you” (if that makes sense at all).

Noratikah Ali said...

Given that fracking is a more suitable approach to extract natural gases than coal mining, it seems that it is a better solution for us. Besides, it will create jobs and increase the economy. However, i think the benefits does not match with the long term consequences of fracking. It is true that natural gases extracted from fracking can supply much more energy for consumers, however i think that the negative consequences are more tremendous. For example, fracking can pollute the water as well as the environment. Water contamination can bring negative health effects to consumers. How can we sustain our life if the water, the soil and the environment are polluted? Besides, this will affect future generation because maybe in future, there is not enough pure and clean water supply for consumers. This is troublesome, and i think that we will suffer more from fracking than we will enjoy from the expected benefits. Therefore, I think fracking should not be allowed.

Karynne Woodard said...

I think that we can only trust the facts behind fracking, but we can't trust the people posing the facts. I think that fracking is okay. As long as there are plenty of polices regulating because the reason.tv said that the reason why the leaking happened was because the wells were not properly constructed. I also think that a policy needs to be put in about some kind of buffer zone to a residential neighborhood and that they need to donate money to help rehabilitate the environment.

Cristina Olvera-J said...

Watching the trailer for Gassland and listening to the song i had made up my mind about this technique, I was convinced fracking was nothing but harmful. After watching the interview however, my mindset changed. I am not arguing that the effects of fracking are devastating and are by no means fair for all of those effected by it, they have no clean drinking water anymore and for goodness sakes their sinks are running flammable water! There is nothing natural about that. Looking at the big picture though, if this technique can potentially provide us with fuel sources that produce less greenhouse gasses and may in the future provide us with potential oil supplies without having to offshore from someone else, then the consequences going on right now may be for the greater good. I know how this sounds but it appears that the mentality of a utilitarian in this case would be the best way to look at things. The most beneficial things in life are attained through trial and error. If it really is true that the reported cases of contaminated water are due to faulty equipment and not due to the fracking technique itself then hopefully sooner than later both the equipment and the technique can be perfected. Some may argue that it is not morally acceptable for the extraction of natural gas by these means due to the effects it has on some populations but the intentions behind its use, to benefit the entire economy of the United States and make it more independent, can only benefit the U.S. population and that sounds moralistic to me.

Reed K said...

Given the right location and proper procedures, fracking is absolutely a morally acceptable way to extract natural gas. A lot of the arguments against natural gas is that there are better options. Currently, our national standard is gasoline, which is even worse for the environment than diesel, and coal. Even in some of the worst cases, it is more environmentally friendly to extract natural gas than oil because there is no natural gas equivalent to an oil spill.

It is true, there are certain locations in the US where fracking isn't an acceptable option. I called my dad after class to see what he thought and he even said Pennsylvania is not, at the very least, and easy place to frack for natural gas and many problems can come out of it because of how close the shale is to the surface and water tables. However, in the majority of cases fracking occurs two miles below the surface of the earth. Yes, there are chemicals used in the mixture, but they account for a fraction of a percentage of the material used to pump down in these pipes. I have a friend in the fracking industry who said that it's about half of a percent of chemicals, most of which you can find in your home.

When renewable energy like solar and wind become efficient and sustainable, I will argue for their place in the energy grid. While people argue over the rights and wrongs of clean natural gas and nuclear power though, we are still being powered by oil and coal.

Dan Richard said...

I find myself having a hard time proposing rejections to such theories such as fracking because even though I feel there are a vast amount of negative problems with it, I don't feel I have an adequate alternative solution. If fracking were to entirely replace coal mining, I do think this would be a great idea. However, anytime a process that creates energy in order to be more efficient at the detriment of the surrounding community water and other chemicals that would be problematic, the policy definitely needs to be looked into very thoroughly. Just because it's the best present solution we have does not mean it is the right thing to do. I think more innovation is in order to find the correct, environmentally sustainable energy acquiring method.

Max Haraldsen said...

I think fracking is not bad as long as it is not considered the ultimate form of getting energy and all others are abandoned. As the article states, it causes less harm to the environment then something such as coal. A balance then must be made between using fracking to gather energy and trying to find more environmentally safe ways to get energy. Additionally, caution must be used because reckless fracking can have negative consequences on the environment. I believe the biggest way to prevent a big negative impact on the environment is through government regulation. It is obvious that the parties involved in fracking today do whatever they want and care little about the environment. With this, some sort of laws must be made to force these companies to also invest in clean, safe energy. Fracking can be seen as the lesser of evils when compared to energy such as that from coal, but we should definitely avoid becoming reliant on it.

Caitlin Cooper said...

I still don’t know exactly what I think about fracking, I’m definitely leaning towards being against it. I think it’s horrible that this ruins people’s water quality. I understand that the video claims that the water contamination was due to faulty wells but that still doesn’t matter to me. I don’t think it’s acceptable or that the landowners are responsible for the water contamination.

I don’t think it’s a morally acceptable way to extract natural gas because it seems like these big businesses are just taking advantage of the farmers especially because they won’t take responsibility for the water contamination. They are offering poor people a lot of money to ruin their land and in turn their livelihood. When people’s water can light on fire there’s a huge problem that needs to be fixed and someone needs to take responsibility for it. If fracking keeps going on (as it most likely will) there needs to be more strict regulations that are actually followed and there needs to be harsh penalties for those who fail to follow the rules. People have a right to clean water I don’t see how that could possibly be up for debate.

Sara Klunk said...

In general, I find fracking to be a morally permissible act. Fracking is a cleaner energy than coal, reduces energy costs, and has the potential to create jobs in the short-term. These reasons bring me to believe that there is a greater overall benefit to fracking.

However, one concern I have with this process is that it seems like fracking would deplete our natural resources even faster than we already are. Because of this, I think fracking would be an acceptable way to produce energy in the short-term, but other green energy sources should still be explored when looking for a long-term, sustainable green energy source.

In addition, there is concern that fracking can cause water contamination, as seen in the documentary Grassland. I think that these instances will decrease as fracking becomes a more mature industry and the processes can be fine-tuned. I believe that there are also possible regulations that could be put into place that could also help to reduce this risk. For example, there could be regulations put into place on how close to water source fracking could occur (based on scientists best approximation). Also, water testing materials similar to PH strips could be given to homeowners to reduce the hazard of drinking contaminated water.

Through the use of regulations and proper testing to protect people and the environment, I believe that fracking is a moral way to produce energy.

Emily Engel said...

I'm not entirely sure how I feel about fracking yet. I like that it's a better alternative than other methods for fuel; however, I still don't think it's a good idea. I have yet to hear an argument for fracking that really justifies it. My biggest problem with it is its effect on the environment and people's health. Because of this, I don't think it's a morally acceptable method, but I'd be slightly more on board if there were set guidelines that needed to be followed when fracking.

Daria Kryuchkova said...

Not to be ignorant, but even after watching an interview and reading articles on fracking, i am still not sure about my opinion on this issue. Moreover, shame on me, i am not extremely knowledgeable about environmental problems.
I have learned that this technology is taking place during past 60 years. The major problem that fascinated me, that even it is been 60 years, there are still cases of insufficient or improper cemented casings, which lead to water contamination. In other words, natural gas escapes into the water simply because of defecting casings. Who is in charge of those? People! It is a fixable matter and had to be improved years ago. Water gets contaminated because of human mishandling, not because of hazardous chemicals that fracking uses to extract natural gas. Human incompetency is an initial issue that leads to fateful consequences. From my understanding fracking can become a good alternative to conventional methods of gas extracting. But if the problem with casings would still exist there is no way we can use this method to prosper.
I apologize in advance if my opinion has been confusing. I did my very best at explaining.

Jeff Collins said...

It is hard for me to give a concrete argument for or against fracking. I understand that it can be effective and beneficial by extracting natural gas out of the earth for energy, but I don't know the negative effects that natural gas has on the environment. If the negative effects are minimal, and it is possible for every fracking company to guarantee very few pollutants into soil and drinking water, then I think that fracking could be very beneficial for society.
I also think that there are other types of energy producers that could be much better for the environment: wind, solar, water, etc and if they can eventually produce enough energy to sustain life on earth, then fracking should be banned. But if that is not able to happen, then I think that fracking is a good alternative to coal and other sources of energy that release a lot of pollution into the air, water, and soil

Robert Romeo said...

I believe that fracking is a morally acceptable way to extract natural gas. I do not know of any other ways to go about it, but from what we read and what we talked about in class it seems like a reasonable option. That being said, all of the things that go along with it seem to carry some implications. The largest one for me is the way that these gas companies go about getting peoples consent to drill on or near their land. From the discussion we had it seems like the possible consequences are not entirely laid out to the people signing these deals, and it also seemed that maybe these people didn't fully understand what they were getting into. Beyond that it seems like the promises of high paying quality jobs was a lie that these companies told in order to achieve their end.

Overall, if natural gas is not as harmful as oil or coal or other fossil fuels, I think that it should be pursued in the short term. However, there needs to be a long term solution to the fossil fuel problem and I don't think that this is it. It may be sustainable for a while, but eventually it will run out like everything else. And even if it is sustainable for the next 1000 years, it will still cause detriment to the earth itself. While it may be a short term solution to the fuel issue, and may free the US from its dependency on foreign oil, it is not the answer that the world needs.

Enrique Franco said...

First I think I should say that any form of energy production that doesn’t utilize clean, renewable energy sources is not a good long-term production plan. That being said I think the arguments for fracking are rather convincing. If used and considered a temporary form of energy production it would take hugely decrease our dependence on foreign oil sources. The little bit of economic breathing room would likely lower gas prices in the states and provide huge sources of revenue for various states. Many of the objections to fracking are concerns over the negative effects it could/will have on the environment. The important point to counter most of these objections is that fracking in place coal would have significant environmental benefits including less overall CO2 omissions. Furthermore I do think there are steps that can be taken to decrease the risk and degree of pollution that would result from fracking.

Zhantao Xu said...

Internet crashed last night :( In my opinion hydraulic fracturing is undoubtedly a better alternative than coal because it is more environmental friendly by producing less greenhouse gases. However, we are hard to determine if fracking will badly affect the people live near it or not and how many miles of range it might affect. Because there are evidence that fracking leads to the illness and pain in the resident area, people start to say no to fracking. But I think that, mining coal may cause worse situation than fracking. The greenhouse gas burning coal provides may destroy the earth. Thus, fracking is a morally acceptable way if experts can accurately predict its consequence to the nearby environment to make it under control.

However, I still believe that there must be some clean energy like wind, water, and energy from the sun. If our technology is good enough to efficiently collect these energy, then every other energy that may lead to illness on people or pollution on the environment is morally unacceptable including fracking.