In this exclusive interview, we asked fracking expert and ENERGYminute co-founder Alexandria Shrake to explain fracking to us. It's become a national topic on the United States presidential debate stage, but it's really hard to figure out how much importance we should give it and what we should do.
Alexandria helps us navigate the pros and cons of fracking and her solution for helping our environment in an oil-dependent world.
You can learn more about Alexandria and her accomplishments here. You can also sign up for ENERGYminute's newsletter, which seeks to enable everyone to understand the complexity behind how energy, environment, and technology are intertwined.
Before we get started, if you want great content like this delivered to your inbox, please make sure to stay in touch.
What is fracking?
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing is the industrial process of pumping water, sand, and additives (typically over 1 mile) in the ground. Contrary to popular YouTubers opinions, fracking itself does not contaminate groundwater by virtue of existing. It is the mismanagement of the wellbore casing design that is behind methane leaks near well sites. While this subtly may be indistinguishable and unforgivable from a social and environment perspective, it is critical to address the correct issue to make positive change.
Fracking extracts jet fuel and natural gas for electricity and heat.
P.S., if you want to offset your last pre-Covid-19 vacation with carbon credits, Radicle has verified credits you can purchase. Fill in your flight history and the cost of your carbon is auto-calculated. It's a small way to make an individual difference.
Why is fracking so contentious?
Sound bytes do not tell the full story. “Ban fracking” is a clear message but does not capture the complications behind the oil and gas industrial complex and the global reliance on fossil fuels.
What are the pros of fracking?
If it's giving us cheap gas and reducing emissions, what are the cons?
Banning fracking is more complicated for the environment than it sounds.
Fracking (which, as mentioned above, produces cheap natural gas) and the reduction in cost of wind are responsible for the greatest emissions reduction in human history!
Why? Both wind and natural gas create electricity which offsets coal-fired plants. The tricky part is that you need a consistent energy source for grid reliability, and wind and solar are intermittent. As the grid surges and balances with changing demand, there does need to be a reliable energy source. The resource intensiveness behind high-quality battery storage makes natural gas the strongest contender behind large-scale grid reliability. There are no simple solutions to the industrial oil and gas complex, but we must first understand the problem if we ever want to solve it.
What would a fracking ban in America look like?
Prices of energy would initially skyrocket, but level out quickly once foreign oil and natural gas from Canada, the Middle East, and Russia were imported into the country. On average, each American uses 2 1/5 milk jugs of oil a day. While other lower emitting technologies could catch-up over time, it would be incredibly challenging and expensive to replace the 300 billion gallons of oil a year that America consumes. With the exception of countries that naturally have abundant reliable renewables like Iceland and Costa Rica, all countries are reliant on fossil fuels to some extent because of how much work energy does for us instead of human labor.
So, should we ban fracking?
In short, no. Not right now. There will be a day when fossil fuels are no longer a cornerstone in the industrial energy complex, but not until there is sufficient infrastructure. What matters today is regulations on wastewater, flaring, and venting to protect our environment to the best of our ability while we still consume fossil fuels.
ZOOM OUT: More importantly, does fracking even matter?
In short, also no. Especially not at the level of discussion we're having now.
If fracking were banned, Americans would use energy imported from foreign sources which would completely defeat the purpose of the ban. In Canada there is a strong tie between an emerging geothermal, lithium, and hydrogen economy. These unlikely clean-tech-oil-and-gas-collaborations are finding ways to bridge the old with the new.