What the frack?


Oct. 26, 2020 — Every day, it seems climate action is knocking on our door, waiting for the handle to be unlocked and be allowed a seat at the table. In 2008, when Pew Research asked U.S. adults what should be the top priority for the president and Congress, 40% agreed that protecting the environment needed to be addressed. In 2020, the number of adults who agreed grew to over 60%. 

As U.S. adults and subsequently—voters, have been increasingly concerned about the future of our climate, the topic of exactly how to mitigate the nation’s impact has been a key point in this year’s presidential debates.

While this campaign has seen public discussion as to whether each candidates plan has the elements and policy proposals needed to safeguard the environment, recently practices in gas and oil have taken center stage. More specifically, fracking, otherwise known as hydraulic fracturing.

Roughly 10yearsago, the technology to try “fracking,” came onto the scene. The practice can be described as the process of drilling into the earth and inserting high-pressure liquid directed at the rock to release the gas inside. 

Alex Gilbert, who is a project manager at the Nuclear Innovation Alliance and has previous experience in the private sector of the energy market as an analyst and climate policy consultant, refers to this period as the Shale Revolution.

Gilbert describes previous oil and gas drilling as “more of pools that you would stick a straw into.”

But with the advancement in technology of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, the Shale Revolution has taken off. Today, the U.S. has tapped into large amounts of crude oil, leaving the country the option to be a notable international exporter of natural gas.

Biden has faced criticism for causing confusion in the past on his stance on fracking, where in one of the Democratic primary debates he misspoke and said “no more—no new—fracking.”

However, in the vice presidential debate on Oct. 7, Sen. Kamala Harris, made it clear that Biden’s climate plan would not ban hydraulic fracturing. 

Despite the senator’s attempts to clarify the campaigns stance, Trump recently called Biden out at a debate in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, pointing to Biden’s verbal blunder at the primary debate. According to AP News, on Oct. 13 at a rally in Trump claimed that his opponent had repeatedly opposed fracking and planned to ban the practice.

A portion of President Trump’s current and past campaign has been focused on growing the U.S.’s independence from other countries. In 2017, under the Trump administration, the U.S. exported more natural gas than it imported, which would be the first time since 1957 that the nation has been a net neutral gas exporter, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

It’s also important to note that the nations production of crude oil saw the beginning of its upward trend in 2009, under the Obama administration, according to EIA.

“Most of the debate has been focused on fracking, saying that it is good for the climate because it’s replacing coal and that’s good for emissions. The problem is that it’s also producing oil, which isn’t reducing anything,” Gilbert said.

Outside of emissions, shale gas production also increases the consumption of fresh water, can induce earthquakes due to chemical additives in fracture fluid, cause potential ground and surface water contamination, as well impact as air quality, as outlined by the U.S. Department of Energy.

But climate scientists are worried about the true trade-off between fracturing for natural gas versus more clean and renewable alternatives.

“Thirty to forty years ago, coal might have been the cheapest way to make power, but that’s just not true anymore,” said Caleb Heeringa, the senior p secretary of the Washington Sierra Club,.

In a recent report conducted by the EIA, it was found that average U.S. construction costs for solar and wind generation has continued to decline, the costs of solar fell 50% while the costs for wind fell 27% from 2013-2018.

Both Heeringa and Gilbert agreed that the greatest challenge to effective climate-action is passing policies through Congress although they are hopeful that local and state governments will continue to take action.

In Washington, about onethird of houses rely on natural gas to heat their households. But the state is also home to the largest hydroelectricity power plant in the nation, which could allow for a solid “decarbonizing” base for the transition to clean energy.

At the state level, last year, Gov. Jay Inslee signed a law that would require electricity providers to source from 100% clean energy sources by 2045. Washington followed four previous jurisdictions – Hawaii, California, New Mexico, and Puerto Rico –  that had also adopted similar legislation.

“The stakes at the national level are higher and there is a continuing perception that benefiting the environment will hurt the economy, and as long as you do that, people think that you won’t for them,” Gilbert said.