One way to minimize fracking's drain on fresh water is to substitute, as much as possible, water that's already been used to frack other wells. After fracking, 10 percent to 50 percent of the water flows back up through the oil or gas well and is typically disposed of through injection into deep wells, a practice that has been linked with minor but troubling earthquakes. If it is instead cleaned of chemical additives as well as metals and minerals from deep underground, it can be reused. Frackers can also use brackish water from aquifers or municipal and industrial wastewater. Some are even beginning to frack not with great quantities of water but with a foam that contains nitrogen, carbon dioxide and relatively small quantities of water. Some of these options even make fracking cheaper.
Regulators need to ensure these alternative practices are consistently adopted. Pennsylvania has the right approach. Before withdrawing water in that state, drillers must win approval for a water-use plan that discloses how much water a well will use, from where and what effect that will have on local sources. To be approved, these plans must include wastewater recycling.
The unconventional production of oil and particularly natural gas from fracking is another area where US technology - in this one instance largely shared by Canada - is streaking away from the rest of the world. Bloomberg’s editorial confirms that fracking technology continues to develop at a rapid pace. This is extremely beneficial for the US economy which has much lower energy costs than any other large developed country. Consequently, manufacturing industries are moving to the US, reversing the trend of earlier decades since the 1980s.
The US is also producing fewer CO2 emissions thanks to the surging consumption of its own natural gas. Additionally, it also kept a number of its nuclear power stations open and is also becoming a leader in new nuclear technology. It is also benefiting from the technological advances which are boosting the efficiency of solar energy.
Other developed countries are also utilising solar power, but mostly after weakening their economies by prematurely closing nuclear power stations and investing heavily in inefficient wind farms which are proving to be deeply unpopular. These countries continue to resist fracking, either because they lack the technology or are on record for their opposition to fossil fuels. Ironically, they have to burn more coal – the biggest pollutant of all – because their green technologies are far from being consistent sources of energy.Back to top