Hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) has been a hot topic of discussion in the recent past. Hydraulic fracturing is defined as “the forcing of fissures in subterranean rocks by introducing liquid at high pressure, especially to extract oil or gas” as according to Google. There are some activists and experts who have some concerns about fracking and it’s effect on groundwater. The article “Experts: Earthquakes, Water Usage Not Concerns With Fracking in Michigan” written by Jarrett Skorup discusses these “overblown” concerns with hydraulic fracturing. I’d like to start off this critique with a little background on fracking and some pros and cons related to this process.
Fracking is a somewhat new process where natural gas and oil are extracted by drilling. Because fracking is somewhat new and starting to grow as a business, it is bringing in a lot of well paying jobs. The process has been effective in extracting natural gas in order to create electrical power. The issue is that “like every policy issues, there are competing views”. There are a number of people who disagree with hydraulic fracturing and see it as a threat to clean water and the amount of water that will be available in the future.
With that being said, let’s get down to the statement in question: “[hydraulic fracturing] has been done in Michigan with no environmental damage for about 50 years” as said by Skorup. This has also been stated by countless other experts and should be looked at a little more carefully. A short film called “Unearthed: The Fracking Facade” brakes down this statement. In this short film, there were a lot of experts claiming that fracking had been practiced for about 50 or 60 years with about one million wells drilled.
Looking at the measures in this statement, I have a couple of concerns. My first concern is with the 50 years claim. Hydraulic fracturing, as it is today, has actually not been around for that long. In reality, this form of fracking has only been around for about a decade. The measure that these experts are using is misleading because they pertain to a particular form of hydraulic fracturing that is no longer used. The process has blown up and changed dramatically since they began fracking wells. The second measure that I would like to point out is that only about 20,000 wells have been fracked with this method as opposed to one million wells. With claiming that there have been more wells fracked over a longer period of time, they are stating that this process has had much more practice than is actually true.
A large issue with a topic like hydraulic fracturing is that there are always two sides and two separate agendas that are followed. One side (the side portrayed in the Skorup article) is for hydraulic fracturing and the other is against. Skorup’s main point of the article is that the concerns about fracking are overblown and should not be emphasized. This is strongly contrasted by a documentary that Skorup mentions in his article called Gasland, which was made by a journalist named Josh Fox. Fox became very interested with the stream in his backyard and then with the issues surrounding hydraulic fracturing. Gasland’s main argument is that because of fracking, nearby groundwater has become tainted with natural gas. The problem with this documentary is that it instills fear in the viewer by illustrating his anti-fracking agenda. The point of the documentary is to make the viewer realize that fracking is a huge problem that must be dealt with as soon as possible, so it only makes sense that he would portray the negative side to fracking. Skorum and other commentators of this film say that Fox was over dramatic and made fracking out to be a bigger problem than it is. And the issue with the Skorum article is that he is working out of his own agenda to portray the positives of hydraulic fracturing and debunk the other side. Both are working to support their own agendas, and that makes it very difficult to see which side is the “right” one.
Another part of this statement is that there have been no recorded environmental damage claims resulting from hydraulic fracturing. The problem with this is that the people who are making this claim are the same people who are pro hydraulic fracturing. These people tend to represent the companies that make money off of fracking. There are two sides to this claim as well: the companies and experts involved in the drilling and the people that have been affected by the drilling. The companies are only looking at the act of extracting the natural gas when making this claim. This is probably true: the act of extracting the natural gas from the shale rock does not cause the contamination of nearby groundwater. But there is more involved in the process that the companies are not considering. The people being affected tend to look at the entire process: the building of the drill, the drilling, the trucks carrying waste, and the teardown of the well. And these could be the causes of the nearby groundwater becoming contaminated.
While, yes, there are things that should be considered when looking at the statement “[Hydraulic fracturing] has been done in Michigan with no environmental damage for about 50 years”, but that does not mean that it is a merely problematic claim. Unfortunately, it is difficult to interpret which side is the correct side because they have their own agendas to portray.
In terms of generalizability, the statement is attempting to generalize that fracking has never posed an environmental threat since it has been in practice. This seems a little bit like a mutant statistic. Experts have claimed that there have not been any “documented cases” of water contamination due to hydraulic fracturing, which does not necessarily mean that in the history of fracking, it has not ever had a negative effect on the environment. Stating that there have been no documented cases is simply saying that there have not been any negative environmental effects that have been physically reported and put in writing. There could be separate confounding factors affecting this trend. Companies that make money off of hydraulic fracturing are going to want to keep their business booming and cannot afford negative press about their practices. If there were to be actual environmental problems that correlated with the process of hydraulic fracturing, the company is going to want to keep that hushed. In Gasland, cases were discussed in which the people negatively affected by these frack wells were being paid off in order to keep them quiet. Because this was not said directly from the people paid off (due to the fact that they could no longer publicly discuss the topic), it could be true that this is a mutant statistic as well. Unfortunately, it cannot be determined.
While there are many “issues” that I have discussed in this critique, the claim should not be completely disregarded. There are some things that one should think about when reading this claim as well as others who oppose it. There are multiple sides to this story and each have their own agenda to support. These different agendas are going to force that they portray the situation in a particular light that could skew the importance of the issue at hand. And while these agendas and claims are difficult to interpret with clarity, there is some truth in both of them.
Skorup, Jerrett. "Experts: Earthquakes, Water Usage Not Concerns With Fracking in Michigan." Macinac Center. (2013): n. page. Web. 6 Dec. 2013. <http://www.mackinac.org/18998>.
Minnarr, Jolynn, dir. Unearthed: The Fracking Facade. Unearthed Motion Pictures, Film. 4 Dec 2013. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IPIEzSwPwT0>..