What is Fracking?
Fracking is a process that has been around for nearly 60 years, but there seems to be a lot more talk about it now than there was in recent memory. Fracking is a nickname for hydraulic fracturing, which is a process in which millions of gallons of water, mixed with chemicals, sand and other ingredients, are shot into the ground under immense amounts of pressure to crack through layers of rock in order to get to oil and natural gas contained within or under the rock. Fracking is usually done after horizontal drilling, which allows a well to reach fuel over a wide area. In PA, it is commonly referred to as Marcellus Shale since the rock they are blasting through is shale, and the formation is named Marcellus.
Estimates about fracking in the U.S. say that over one million wells have been "fracked" since the 1940s when hydraulic fracturing was invented. Estimates for the future say that up to 80% of oil wells drilled in the next decade will be done using fracking. Even normal wells that do not need horizontal drilling are commonly opened through fracking since it expands the well, allowing it to flow faster.
The reason there is so much talk about fracking in Pennsylvania is because there is a massive store of natural gas under the ground that extends all the way from New York through Pennsylvania, and West Virginia into Maryland and Ohio.
Unfortunately, with this great opportunity have come problems and controversies arising from the methods being used to extract those fuels. There have been reports of ground water being contaminated with chemicals from the fracking process, as well as the unregulated removal and disposal of the fracking fluid after it has been used. Others have claimed that there are problems arising from the contamination of ground water; saying that it has caused livestock and crops to become diseased, has caused their water to be undrinkable, has made their property value lower, and even that their water is flammable and can lead to explosions due to methane leaks.
These claims are highly controversial and there are some who say that they are almost entirely made up or at the least highly exaggerated. Since 2005 when many aspects of the fracking industry became in many aspects unregulated as signed by President George W. Bush, there have been many claims that the fracking industry is causing massive damage to the lives of Pennsylvanians. Several documentaries and films about the matter have peaked the public's interest in the subject.
There are many benefits that people in Pennsylvania have seen from the growth of the Marcellus Shale fracking industry and could see if the industry continues to expand. Full development of the industry could result in over 200,000 jobs in Pennsylvania, and the average job in the industry pays $62,000 per year which is almost $20,000 more than the current average job in PA. The increase in production of natural gas has generated over $1 billion in tax revenue since 2006 for the state of Pennsylvania, and hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on land lease payments to average people in the state, which has helped stimulate the economy. The companies that build the wells are also buying large amounts of raw materials from Pennsylvania companies. Overall the economy is getting a great boost from the industry's development.
Fracking takes up a lot less space than normal drilling does. Since the wells can be drilled down and then expanded to the sides using horizontal drilling underground, they can put multiple wells in one place and extract resources from a fairly large area. This means less land being used for drilling, less land occupied by wells and fewer roads needed to provide access to those wells.
Fracking is not going to disappear, but rather will grow in the future. Hopefully the negative aspects of the industry can be fixed and the economic benefits of it can expand and help to stimulate the economy of the Northeast.