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Future of fracking fleshed out

The use of natural gas as a fuel has expanded rapidly during recent years. Within this industry, a notably promising and controversial advancement has surfaced: high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or, more simply put, fracking. This unconventional technique has allowed for massive amounts of previously unreachable fuel deposits to undergo extraction; it involves pumping a highly pressurized mixture of water, sand and chemical additives into buried sedimentary rock in order to free and capture trapped natural gas. 

Spawning nearly 500,000 new gas wells in 32 different states between 2000 and 2010, this technique is dominating the trade. Intense debate surrounds hydraulic fracturing, for it requires millions of gallons of water and holds the potential to significantly damage the environment. Taking these drawbacks into account, fracking's current form requires remedy in order to safely continue.

Extracting natural gas in this manner holds an impressive amount of benefits. Its supporters generally cite the number of jobs that the industry creates, its potential to improve the U.S. economy and its clean combustion as key outcomes. As summarized within this statement by Davenport, Carol and Dreazen:

"By some estimates, fracking could allow the U.S. to become the biggest energy producer in the world within the next decade. According to a 2011 study by IHS Global Insight, by 2035 the shale-gas industry will generate more than 1.6 million U.S. jobs, $231 billion in gross domestic product and $933 billion in tax and royalty revenues; it will also contribute to a 10 percent drop in electricity costs. And while fracking raises plenty of environmental concerns, it also brings a potentially huge benefit. When used to generate electricity, natural gas emits only half the carbon pollution of coal."  

Such incredible figures are surely enough to encourage the continued examination of fracking as well as the attempt to overcome any possible shortcomings of its phases.

On the other hand, the products of fracking are the subject of much critique. Most notably, the millions of water gallons used ultimately become toxic while underground. Due to this depletion of fresh water, questions regarding the ethics of this method are often raised. Also, some of this now-toxic fluid rises to the surface; it is beginning to accumulate faster than treatment plants can care for it. 

Creating the potential for an uncontained surplus of harmful and carcinogenic material, this fact is troubling. Moreover, in Pennsylvania and Colorado, water near fracking operations has been turned brown and, in some cases, proven flammable. The undesirable products of hydraulic fracturing offset its positive attributes in the eyes of critics.

In addition to its products, the regulations surrounding fracking are subject to scrutiny. Specifically, legislation from 2005 jointly exempted fracking corporations from the liability of disclosing their chemical arsenal and restrained the Environmental Protection Agency's regulatory dominion over the industry. These laws inherently provide this gaseous empire with a large amount of freedom and may subsequently facilitate the mishandling of the entire operation. Our globe may potentially suffer harm due to various laws' allowance of this industry to produce and release dangerous chemicals.

All of these errors illustrate the imperfection of fracking's current form. Toxic waste accumulation and a potentially colossal amount of pollution outweigh the initial benefits of job creation and clean combustion. A solution, however, may be at hand: a promising new form of fracking which substitutes water with a liquefied propane gas gel is in its infancy. 

This propane gas gel does not create wastewater. It instead "reverts to vapor due to pressure and heat, then returns to the surface—along with the natural gas—for collection, possible reuse and ultimate resale." Used about 1,000 times since 2008, this technology has yet to integrate into the mainstream industry due to the gel's elevated initial costs. Generally, this form of fracturing has demonstrated a strong potential to correct the many problems of hydraulic fracturing.

As a whole, fracking's unintended effects essentially mandate its discontinuation; although it may potentially remedy the U.S. economy while leading the way to clean fuel, its multi-faceted disruption of the environment is too monstrous of a problem. 

However, the apparent ability of propane-based fracturing to eliminate these issues merits a heightened effort to employ its use. Overall, the fracking industry's modern state has an excessive amount of flaws, but it may hold a future if it successfully embraces propane-based fracturing.

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