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< Back to question Is shale oil a sustainable business model? Show more Show less

The drilling of shale oil has been hailed as revolution that has brought cheap gas and oil to American and made America a net exporter of oil and natural gas. However, there is serious debate as to whether shale is a sustainable business model given the high number of bankruptcies in the sector. What are the positions on the shale operating model?

Shale drilling is bad for the environment, independent of any poor financial outcomes Show more Show less

Shale oil destroys the landscape and leaves a large pockmarked surface polluted by chemicals. The long run environmental problems of shale make it a poor business model, as communities are left to pick up the pieces.
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Shale drilling leaks toxic chemicals into drinking water

The hydraulic fracturing (fracking) process of shale poses significant threats to water supplies.
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The Argument

Fracking, or drilling for gas by hydraulic fracturing, has been associated with a growing number of health risks, especially when looking to the way in which it contaminates a region's water supply. This specifically occurs as, "in order to frack, an enormous amount of water is mixed with various toxic chemical compounds to create frack fluid. This frack fluid is further contaminated by the heavy metals and radioactive elements that exist naturally in the shale. A significant portion of the frack fluid returns to the surface, where it can spill or be dumped into rivers and streams. Underground water supplies can also be contaminated by fracking, through migration of gas and frack fluid underground."[1] Thus, fracking can pose a threat to local water resources, especially in areas where water is already scarce like the Barnett shale in Texas.[2] Moreover, drilling wastewater— that ends up in rural water supplies— is so poisonous, that when a gas company legally doused a patch of West Virginia forest with salty wastewater from a drilling operation, it killed ground vegetation within days and more than half the trees within two years. Although many companies are not obligated to disclose the chemicals they use, the Endocrine Disruptor Exchange (TEDX) has reported that out of those that have reported their chemical recipes, all have been found to include 353 chemicals that are not only highly toxic but cancer-causing in small doses as well. Some reported include, Benzene, Toluene, 2-butoxyethanol (a main ingredient to anti-freeze and oil dispersants), and heavy metals.[2] The dangerous implications of this wastewater has already been reported as it has been linked numerous times to livestock and family pet deaths across the country. Furthermore, many chemicals used in fracking have been documented to have deleterious health effects at small levels of exposure.[3] Though the industry has attempted to obscure evidence of well water contamination by fracking, multiple instances have come to light. For example, in Pennsylvania, Colorado, Ohio, and Wyoming, fracking has been linked to drinking water contamination as well as property damage. A study conducted by Duke University examined 60 sites in New York and Pennsylvania and found “systematic evidence for methane contamination” in household drinking water.[1] Water wells half a mile from drilling operations were contaminated by methane at 17 times the rate of those farther from gas developments. Although methane in water has not been studied closely as a health hazard, it can seep into houses and build up to explosive levels.[1]

Counter arguments

According to the Independent Petroleum Association of America, fracking does not pose a threat to groundwater. Rather, in citing no fewer than two dozen scientific studies, it has been concluded that fracking does not pose a major risk to groundwater.[4] Most notably, a landmark study conducted in 2016 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that, “[H]ydraulic fracturing operations are unlikely to generate sufficient pressure to drive fluids into shallow drinking water zones.”[5] The EPA again came to this same conclusion when they expanded their own definition of fracking to include a wide range of other oilfield activities. This is significant as it demonstrates the safety of the entire development process.[5] Yet, it is important to note that despite such studies: yes, fracking can cause water contamination. However, this is only in the case that the fracking operation is simply not done properly (or with currently approved techniques). And with the regulations currently imposed, such a reality would not occur without punishment.[6] This is additionally demonstrated by the UK government. Specifically, in finding that water contamination is rare with proper shale gas production regulations, they gave fracking the green light[6]


Rejecting the premises


  2. --> Negative impacts on pregnancy and birth outcomes

This page was last edited on Saturday, 11 Jul 2020 at 03:05 UTC

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