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Alternative Energy Sources

The Pros and Cons of Fracking

Hydraulic fracking

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a method of natural gas and oil extraction. The fracking process involves drilling into shale rock formations and injecting a high pressure mixture of water, chemicals and sand to release natural gas and oil. Recent technological advances have made fracking far more efficient and economical, so its use has increased rapidly in the past decade. However, it is a somewhat controversial method of extraction. Here is an overview of the pros and cons of fracking.

Pros

Until just a few years ago, the U.S. was heavily reliant on foreign suppliers for natural gas and oil. Yet the rapid increase in fracking has dramatically decreased that need. We are currently predicted to become a net exporter of oil and natural gas by 2020.

A key benefit of fracking has been the very large decreases in prices of natural gas and oil on account of increased supply, which has been a boon for consumers.

Fracking is also a source of many jobs, both directly in the industry and indirectly in terms of supporting workers. Estimates vary widely on the total number of jobs supported by fracking, but one widely cited figure holds that fracking is responsible for 360,000 jobs directly and 1.7 million jobs indirectly.

Cons

Some critics of fracking argue that it is responsible for earthquakes and seismic instability. While there is a grain of truth to these claims, they are often hugely exaggerated. Although it is true that fracking has caused an increase in the frequency of minor seismic events, the vast majority of these have been too small to be detected by humans without using specialized equipment. There have been no recorded injuries or fatalities as a result of seismic events caused by fracking.

Critics argue that fracking has caused contamination of groundwater near to drilling sites with substances such as methane. There is some evidence to suggest that limited groundwater contamination has taken place as a result of fracking operations in some places. However, similarly to claims regarding seismic events, these are often highly exaggerated.

Like every industrial process, fracking can have some limited negative effects. Yet these are vastly outweighed by its positive impact on natural gas and oil prices, jobs and national security.

What is Fracking?

Oil well

Fracking, which is also termed "hydraulic fracturing", is a method used to obtain natural gas and oil. It is currently the mode of extraction for approximately 50% of the oil and gas produced in the United States. There are 360,000 people employed in fracking in the U.S., and the domestic fracking industry supports a total of approximately 1.7 million jobs.

The fracking process begins with drilling into shale rock to create a well. This can be done either vertically or horizontally to the rock layer.

Next, a blend of chemicals, water and silicon dioxide (sand) is injected into the rock at high pressure. This pushes gas and oil to flow outwards toward the exit (known as the 'head') of the well for collection and distribution.

Recent advances in fracking technologies have caused a very large increase in accessible domestic reserves of oil and natural gas. For this reason, there has been a major increase in the use of fracking in the past few years. It is partly responsible for the boom in domestic natural gas and oil production.

Fracking also provides significant benefits in terms of national security. As little as five years ago, the U.S. was heavily dependent on foreign suppliers of oil and natural gas. Today, we are approaching energy independence, and expect to be a net exporter of natural gas by 2017.

Fracking also has a large role in the low prices for oil and natural gas that consumers currently enjoy. As of late 2015, natural gas prices are at the lowest they have been for 13 years.

Market Effects of Shale Gas

Natural gas drilling

The combination of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling has enabled us to tap into large deposits of shale resources that contain crude oil and natural gas. Shale resources were not available a decade ago, and its emergence in the United States has positioned it as competition to the other natural gas and oil resources available. With production expected to increase over the next decade, shale resources will continue to have an impact on domestic oil and gas consumption.

As production of oil and natural gas from shale resources continues to ramp up, you will also see a rise in total domestic consumption due to the decreasing prices of those energy supplies. The economic effects will be tremendous, as use of more conventional resources and competing fuels will drop.

Experts estimate that the price of natural gas would be about 70 percent higher if not for the development of shale gas, so the economic advantages are clear. Shale gas has even proved to be more valuable than tight oil, in large part because shale gas is more plentiful.

Existing labor and capital will also experience a boost from the innovative combination of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling. Productivity will increase for those employed in shale development or the natural gas and oil industry, which leads to an increase in gross domestic product.

The increase in labor and capital from higher income and better wages as a result of shale development’s effect on gross domestic product will provide an exceptional boost to the economy. You should also be an increase in federal tax revenues from the increase in gross domestic product.

Production of natural gas from shale resources has had a substantial effect on the energy and economic markets, and the true long-term impact will continue to be felt for years to come.

What is Compressed Natural Gas?

Compressed natural gas

The most common forms of natural gas are liquid and gas, but what you might not know is that a significant number of commercial vehicles utilize the gaseous form compressed to pressures above 3,100 pounds per square inch.

Compressed natural gas, or CNG, is what you get when gas is placed under pressure but remains clear, odorless and non-corrosive. It can be used in place of gasoline, diesel fuel and propane. Those fuels produce more undesirable gases than CNG, which is considered to be a safer form of natural gas.

Once the gas has been compressed, it is then stored in hard containers for later distribution. These storage tanks, which are designed to last more than 20 years, are typically made up of thick-walled steel, aluminum or composite materials.

Natural gas is considered a valuable resource for fueling vehicles because of the low cost and the fact that it burns cleaner than gasoline or diesel fuel. Natural gas vehicles have experienced an average reduction of 80 percent in ozone-forming emissions in comparison to gasoline vehicles.

CNG is a common source of fuel for commercial vehicles. Taxi cabs, medium-duty trucks, postal vehicles, transit buses and school buses are among the commercial applications for utilizing CNG. Natural gas powers more than 12 million vehicles on the road today.

There has even been limited usage of a home refueling appliance for people with CNG vehicles. In California, the FuelMaker Corporation unveiled such an appliance several years ago, allowing owners of CNG vehicles to refuel their vehicles overnight from their household natural gas line.

With rising gas prices, interest in CNG as an alternative fuel source has surged over the past several years. There are around 12,000 CNG fueling stations in the world right now, and about 500 of them are located in the United States.

Myths About Electricity

close up of a light bulb filament

Conserving energy is something that most of us strive for. But there are quite a few popular misconceptions about how to reduce the amount of electricity you use. By examining a few of the most common myths here, more people can become better educated on how to best conserve energy, rather than relying on misconceptions that have been debunked over the years.

Myth: Leaving the lights on is better than shutting them off, considering how much energy is required to turn them on in the first place.

This myth was fact several years ago, before manufacturers stopping using activators in florescent lights. The activator required a significant amount of energy to start the light, estimated to be about 15 minutes worth of light. Modern florescent lights are much more conservative, requiring less than one second of light when turned on. So be sure to turn the lights out when you leave a room!

Myth: Keep the heater at the same temperature, even when no one is in the building, because returning it to the designated temperature will require more energy than maintaining the same temperature.

This is not true, because lowering the temperature reduces the amount of cycles for the heating or air conditioning system. The few hours that the system runs, the less energy is used. To avoid freezing the pipes, don’t turn the heat completely off, but keeping it at a lower temperature when no one is around will help conserve more energy.

Myth: You no longer have to turn off office equipment, in large part because of technological advances that have allowed these machines to become more energy efficient.

While these machines are idle, most of them are still functioning at full power, ready and waiting to be used. Even computer screensavers are not as efficient as you might think. At the very least, turn off the monitor or shut down all unneeded machines overnight, during the weekends or while on vacation.

What is Shale Gas?

Shale

Shale gas is the new topic of discussion in the United States. The findings of composites of this resource have started to strike new and exciting changes in our economy. It has brought about new technologies for drilling as well as provided a lifetime supply of our most valuable resource. Shale gas is sure to generate many conversations well into the future of our society.

Shale is a familiar word that many of us may have come across in our educational background. It is sediment found beneath the earth’s crust. It consists of mud, clay and other organic substances that have been compressed into a rock. While it is not the rock that generates the natural gas it does house it. Within the pores of the shale is where natural gas can be found. This gas is what has come to be referred to as shale gas.

Shale gas is valuable because it an energy source that is expected to drastically reduce greenhouse emissions as its use increases. Just 14 years ago, shale gas was responsible for only 1 percent of the United States natural gas production. By 2010, that number increased to more than 20 percent and the U.S. government’s Energy Information Administration predicts that the United States’ natural gas supply from shale gas will only continue to grow and provide us with cleaner, more efficient energy.

As you can imagine the new type of natural gas has generated a link to our future, our economy, and eco-system. With every new journey there comes learning experiences. Shale gas is not expected to be a replacement for natural gas but rather a shift to a new way of life in which we obtain and utilize the resource.