The German government has agreed in principal to put a ban on fracking, following France in their decision to ban the controversial practice. Fracking has been the source of debates domestic and international. Does it hurt the environment? Is it an economically advantageous process? Either way, fracking begets fuel, and that can cause some big ripples; really big ripples. But let’s take a step back.
Fracking is the injection of water and chemicals deep into the earth to expel natural gasses and crude oils, which can in turn be used as alternate fuel forms. It has been the backbone of new economies in states like Pennsylvania and West Virginia, while other states like New York and Maryland have outlawed the process altogether.
Germany’s ban came at the cajoling of many environmental groups, but came with a caveat. Fracking would be banned until until further research was available on the subject. So, if fracking is as bad as these tree-huggers are saying, then why isn’t this a forever ban? Why aren’t we making fracking punishable by a good old fashioned firing squad? Or at least a weekend of vegetable-pelting at the gallows? Not even sanctions?
The answer must be that, while the pressure is there and fracking seems bad, the depths of the problem aren’t as clear as the opposition would seem.
As it stands right now, Germany can afford to be on the Eco-conscious side of fracking. A relatively small percentage of their fuel comes from fracking, and thus a good amount of their economy isn’t based around the process. Their lack of dependence on fracking means that no one would really be up in arms if the industry went to shit. That might not be the case in Ohio, where the fracking has caused economic swells. The boost it provided the local economy was a sparkling point on the resume that Governor John Kasich used to propel his surprising presidential bid.
The perceived problems with fracking are varied. Some, like New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, argue that it contaminates the water supply though the chemical injections into an otherwise untainted earth. The dissenters would argue that the actual process of fracking goes on deep enough under the water table that the actual supply wouldn’t be affected by the subterranean processes.
Cuomo also remarked on his concerns about the air pollution the machinery might cause, while fracking’s supporters point out the severe dip in noxious emissions that the process would have in comparison to the alternative: mining for coal. Not only is the air safer in the long term, but the carcinogens to which workers are directly exposed are vastly reduced once they get out of the mines. Indeed, to many, fracking’s greatest strength lies in comparison to its alternatives.
Others fear that earthquakes and sinkholes are the greatest problems that fracking can cause. The U.S. Geological Survey said that “there was an average of 21 quakes measuring a magnitude 3 or greater from 1973 to 2008. But from 2009 to 2013, at a time when fracking operations had soared and increased both oil and natural gas production, there was an average of 99 such quakes a year. And in 2014, there were 659 such quakes.”
Some opposed to fracking simply don’t see it as a viable source of new energy. “Shale gas is not the solution to the UK’s energy challenges,” said Friends of the Earth energy campaigner Tony Bosworth. “We need a 21st century energy revolution based on efficiency and renewables, not more fossil fuels that will add to climate change.” Bosworth sounds like a Tesla guy.
The opposition against fracking is loud indeed, but so are the “ca-chings” from the cash registers at domestic oil companies all over the United States. The fracking emergence has been a shot in the arm to a fuel industry that had been increasingly dependent on Middle Eastern oil. Prices at the pump have seen a dip in a consumer-friendly direction. Estimates that the United States and Canada were afforded a “100 year fuel security blanket” might have been overstated, but the importance of domestic fuel independence can’t be.
The butterfly effects of such circumstances, hypothetical as they may be, are heady. Had fracking been around earlier, some proponents of the process argue, we could have even avoided the tragedy of 9/11.
It might take fewer mental acrobatics to correlate the two than one might think. An earlier jump on fracking would have meant that we had a more reliant source for domestic fuel. A domestic fuel source would mean less of a reliance on foreign oil. Less reliance on foreign oil would mean that we were less beholden to our forced Middle Eastern allies who were feeding us fuel; specifically, Saudi Arabia. And a tighter watch on Saudi Arabia could have prevented one of the worst tragedies in American history.
In 2000, shortly after George W. Bush was elected, US intelligent agencies were told to “back off” their investigations of Osama bin Laden and Saudi royals. For years, there have been several links between the Saudi Royal Family and al-Quaeda, as well of prominent Saudi businessmen who would have been known financial backers of the terrorist cell.
The important alliance that Bush, like his father before him, held with the Saudis bought them enough time and space at the onset of his presidency. Without the leniency that our government felt obligated to afford to the Saudis, it would have been near impossible to for them to organize and carry out an attack of the magnitude of 9/11. Without the US’s need to appease the Saudis, it can be argued that American lives would have been saved, and we wouldn’t have had to turn a blind eye to our “ally’s” countless human rights violations.
It seems a long way away from someone shooting a bunch of water into the earth’s core, but people go a long way for fuel. More research into fracking is definitely necessary, as evidenced by Germany’s plan to revisit the fracking question in 2021. People for and against fracking will keep shaking the tree and tough existential questions will continue to fall from it. Are skyrocketing earthquake numbers worth allaying a potential terrorist attack? Fracking’s link to both sides of that question are too big to ignore.