The technology available for fossil fuel exploitation is cheaper than any other available or developed technologies for the exploitation of other energy sources. For example, even though solar energy is a renewable source of energy, still we are unable to exploit it fully because of the huge expenses needed for the conversion of solar energy into useful forms of energy. In short, even though fossil fuel energy is non-renewable and not much friendly with the environment, still we are trying to exploit it as much as possible because of the fewer expenses needed for the exploitation of it. However, the over exploitation of fossil fuels for our energy needs, destroyed the environment and we are in a spot of bother at present; whether to continue the exploitation of fossil fuel or not.
“In contrast with oil hydrocarbons, which have been an object of wide and detailed ecotoxicological studies worldwide, natural gas and its components have been left outside the sphere of environmental analysis, control, and regulation” (Patin). However, natural gas and its combustion can cause major problems to the environment same way like the oil hydrocarbons. Natural gas and crude oil are closely related as both substances formed in the earth from organic matters. Oil deposits always contain natural gas even though natural gases can be found independently also. This paper briefly analyses the cause and effect of natural gas drilling.
Cause and effect of natural gas drilling
Methane, one of the major components of natural gas is causing severe problems to the environment. Large amount of hydrocarbon gases like methane, ethane, pentane etc are liberated to the atmosphere during the production and purification of oil, gas, and coal, at the time of transportation, at the time of burning of fossil fuels etc. These hydrocarbons can contribute heavily to the atmospheric temperature rise and the subsequent climate change problems. The hydrocarbon gases have the ability to block the heat waves produced on earth’s atmosphere due to solar heat. Under normal circumstances, the heat waves produced by the solar heat would escape from the atmosphere because of expansion. However, increased volume of hydrocarbons in the atmosphere may prevent these heat radiations from escaping our atmosphere and hence the global warming problems could be worsened.
The global consequence of all these anthropogenic impacts is the gradual increase of methane concentration in the atmosphere over the last 100 years – from 0.7×10-4% to 1.7×10-4% (in volume)” Many scientists believe that gases released due to human activities have already begun to affect the earth’s overall temperature and the methane anthropogenic emission is responsible for about 30% of the total warming effect (Patin).
Hydrogen sulphide is another major component of natural gas which causes problems to the environment. Unlike many other gases, hydrogen sulphide is soluble in water and thus it can contaminate the water along with the atmosphere around the areas where natural gas drilling takes place. Sulphur dioxide produced out of the reaction between hydrogen sulphide and water is highly reactive and can covert some of the useful elements available on earth’s crust into unusable forms. In short, Hydrogen sulphide gas liberated out of the natural gas drilling area, belongs to the group of poison gases and it can cause severe damages not only to the living things, but also to some of the economically valuable nonliving things.
“In addition to the air we breathe today, the water may be a cause of certain diseases in certain area. The big companies offer big dollars for drilling rights.Â Water wells are exploding too” (Drilling for Natural Gas Documentary – The Effect on Drinking Water and our Health “Gasland”). Williams (2010) has mentioned a process called Hydraulic fracturing or fracking used in the natural gas drilling process. “Fracking involves injecting sand and water, mixed with a small percentage of undisclosed chemicals, deep into natural gas wells to fracture tight underground geological formations and free up more gas” (Williams). But one of the unfortunate thing about the fracking process is the hesitation of the drilling companies in disclosing the chemicals used in the natural gas drilling process or fracking (see appendix for more details about fracking). Many people believe that the reluctance of oil companies is simply because of the poisonous chemicals they were using to drill out more natural gas. These chemicals can definitely contaminate the water around the natural gas drilling areas. Williams also mentioned that “more than 90 percent of natural gas wells are fracked for maximum production” (Williams). In short, apart from the known consequences of natural gas drilling, there are some unknown consequences also.
Large volumes of water are required for the hydraulic fracturing or fracking process. The hydraulic fracturing fluid typically contains compounds added to the water to make the hydraulic fracturing process more effective. These may include a friction reducer, a biocide to prevent the growth of bacteria that would damage the well piping or clog the fractures, a gel to carry the proppant into the fractures, and various other agents to make sure the proppant stays in the fractures and to prevent corrosion of the pipes in the well. (Department of environmental conservation: New York)
New York state department of environmental conservation has admitted that huge volumes of water and chemicals are required for the fracking process. Even though the department ensures the safety of the various processes used in the natural gas drilling, nothing is mentioned about what happens to the water after the fracking process is over. It is difficult to recover the mixture of water and other chemicals used for the fracking process. In all probabilities, these contaminated materials may go directly into the deeper soil. In other words, these contaminated chemicals and water used for the fracking process can contaminate the underwater resources in the surrounding areas. America in general and New York in particular is facing severe drinking water shortages. Underwater exploitation is one of the major drinking water sources in America. It is quite possible that people who use underground water from the surrounding areas of the natural gas drilling area may develop severe health problems. The following incident can clearly establish the connection between natural gas drilling and contamination of water.
Mayer, 59, a disabled Vietnam veteran, lives in Candor, a rural town in Tioga County, between Ithaca and Binghamton. He has lived in the same house since 1962. He has used the same drinking water well since 1966. The problems with his water started about three years ago, he said. Mayer blames his flammable faucet on natural gas drilling near his home. Fortuna Energy Inc., the largest natural-gas company in New York, began drilling in Tioga County in late 2003, company lawyer and spokesman Mark Scheuerman said.
“I never had a problem,” Mayer said. “The gas wasn’t here before. Then all of a sudden the drilling starts happening and wham, bam.”The gas has polluted his water supply, forcing Mayer to buy bottled water to drink. If enough gas builds up in his faucets or walls, scientists warn, Mayer’s house could explode (Goldberg).
In an article by Abraham Lustgarten, it is mentioned that “wastewater from natural gas drilling in New York state is radioactive, “as high as 267 times the limit safe for discharge into the environment and thousands of times the limit safe for people to drink”(Petryk). Fracking can generate toxic radiation in the toxic sludge. This may include from naturally occurring radon gas to Radium 226, Radium 228, Gross Alpha and Gross Beta radiations etc. Still the medical science is unable to find out the exact reasons or treatment options for the cancer disease. However, radiation exposure is suspected as one of the major reasons for the cancer disease.
The smoke produced out of the purification process of the natural gas can also cause severe damages to the environment. The high concentration of carbon components in atmosphere is not a desirable situation for the living things. As in the case of methane, carbon produced out of the purification process of the natural gas can contribute heavily to the global warming problems.
Natural gas drilling can cause severe problems like the crude oil drilling or extraction. The natural gas drilling companies are not disclosing the various chemicals used in the drilling process and hence it is difficult to estimate the damages accurately. Even then it is accepted that natural gas drilling may contaminate the water sources near the drilling area. Moreover, natural gas drilling can generate harmful radiations which may negatively impact the living things. Methane, one of the major components of natural gas can contribute heavily to the climate changes and global warming problems because of its ability to block the heat waves from escaping from our atmosphere. Hydrogen sulphide, a poisonous gas another component of natural gas, is soluble in water and it can generate a highly reactive sulphur dioxide gas. Sulphur dioxide gas can engage in quick chemical reactions with both living and non living things and can cause many problems to the living and non living properties available on earth.