When we plug in our phones to charge, we hardly ever think about where this electricity comes from. And yet, energy production is a highly political and environmentally contested matter with shocking effects.
While coal was king of the United States energy production sector, it has been surpassed by natural gas production in 2016. The harvesting of natural gas requires fracking, which is an environmentally destructive process that shouldn’t be the future of energy cultivation in America.
According to Gretchen Sneegas, PhD candidate in the UGA Department of Geology specializing in fracking, the process involves companies drilling into shale formations with natural gas trapped inside then drilling horizontally “like spokes on a wheel.” This is then flooded with hydrofracking fluid, which is water with synthetic compounds and chemicals at concentrations toxic to humans and animals. The fluid forces the gas through the rock towards the surface, where it is collected.
There’s strong evidence to suggest that fracking is changing the seismic activity within this country, meaning that areas that don’t typically get earthquakes, such as Oklahoma, are getting earthquakes comparable to California. This is due to the fact that wastewater wells needed for fracking are changing the earth, causing earthquakes.
Not only that, but there’s potential water contamination since the chemical laden water can seep into aquifers, or underground sources of drinking water. If that happens, then the people who rely on the fresh drinking water face serious health consequences, which happened in Wyoming. Worst of all, the chemicals can’t be analyzed by modern laboratory equipment, so the true extent of human harm from these chemicals remain unknown.
So not only is fracking contributing to earthquakes, causing infrastructural damage and posing threats to human lives, but it can contaminate drinking water systems with undefinable yet toxic chemicals.
Despite all its faults, though, fracking has dug its fingers into American policy. On Dec. 29 of 2017, President Trump repealed Obama-era regulations that prevented fracking on public land. The cultivation of natural energy for fuel will be powering American homes, including the ones in Athens, for years to come. But that doesn’t mean that fracking is the future as well.
Sneegas said that natural gas can be the “bridge” between coal and oil to renewable energy.
“I have spoken to some fairly optimistic people who see our country moving towards a ‘diverse energy portfolio’ that draws from natural gas and renewables."
Gretchen Sneegas, PhD candidate in the UGA Department of Geology specializing in fracking
“I have spoken to some fairly optimistic people who see our country moving towards a ‘diverse energy portfolio’ that draws from natural gas and renewables ... This is a more moderate/middle of the road approach, and personally, I think this is a fairly likely scenario,” Sneegas said.
Despite the fact that wind and solar energy cannot be stored in batteries or transported long distances, there is strong suggestion that renewable energy can power 80 percent of US energy grids by 2050.
While fracking makes its marks on our land, we should urge legislators to push for more renewable energy in our country. With wind and solar becoming more efficient every year, let’s leave fracking behind and look for renewables for a brighter, sustainably powered future.