Although unconventional gas exploration, relatively speaking, is a new industry, the development of commercially viable unconventional gas exploration technology has a long and extensive history. The most common form of unconventional gas exploration is hydraulic fracturing, which involves injecting pressurized liquid composed of roughly 99 percent water and 1 percent chemicals into a well in order to propagate fractures in rock.
This releases natural gas that can then be captured and harnessed. In recent years, it has quickly emerged as one of the fastest growing and most polarizing industries, both nationally and globally. It has been successfully employed in numerous countries such as the United Kingdom, China, New Zealand, Poland, Canada, and even parts of the United States because of its ability to successfully increase productivity from wells. And yet, it seems like no other industry can illicit such strong and active responses from both supporters and opposition groups. But why exactly is unconventional gas exploration so controversial?
Industrial use of fracking started as early as 1903, but was first introduced commercially in America in 1947. The fracking technology implemented today is based on technological innovations made in the late twentieth century. Due to these technological developments and the ability of Hydraulic Fracturing to successfully increase productivity from wells, it has been adopted by thousands of oil and natural gas wells worldwide. Since the late 1970s, national, state, and local agencies have been studying the environmental and economic implications of employing hydraulic fracturing. While fracking is relatively speaking, new, it has been implemented in the Barnett Shale since 1991. It is also one of the fastest growing industries in the United States, growing forty-five percent in the last five years. One of the consequences of such rapid growth, as in other industries such as solar or wind power, is a strong public response, particularly of public opposition.
Opposition groups frequently raise concerns about radioactivity of groundwater drawn from wells, and the air pollution that could be caused from chemicals coming to the surface. In many instances, across the entire country, this type of public opposition has at one point or another caused bans, moratoriums, and costly delays to unconventional gas exploration developments. With the proper grassroots campaign, unconventional gas exploration developments can disseminate the correct facts about unconventional gas exploration to the public. For example, several studies dating back as far as 2004 by state and local government and environmental officials have shown that hydraulic fracturing has had no effect on public water supplies. In addition, relatively speaking, fracking has the potential to turn power plants away from coal to much cleaner burning natural gas, which could actually improve air quality. If that weren’t enough, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency passed rules placing restrictions on releases of methane from wells.