Natural gas (NG) is a fossil fuel. It is made up of compressed plankton that lived in an anaerobic environment, which is important because if oxygen were present, bacteria would have been able to consume the plankton.
Natural gas is stored deep underground, under the soil, water, loam and sandstone, in an area called a shale. The longer this fossil fuel is underground, the more compressed it is, and the fewer impurities are present – allowing this fossil fuel to be natural gas instead of oil.
Thus, NG is super pure, causing less emissions than other fossil fuels, and it is pretty efficient.
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is when a deep hole is drilled vertically underground from a well, and then the pipeline hole shoots out horizontally, creating an “L” shape underground. This is beneficial because most deposits form in a horizonal shape. F
racking fluid is also injected underground via the whole at a rapid speed to create tiny cracks in the rocks that allow for more NG to be collected. The fracking fluid is mostly water, but also has proppant (like sand) to keep the cracks from being compressed by the material above, and a chemical mixture of substances like lubricants, bacteria killers, and other stuff to make the process easier. This fracking fluid is one of the main arguments against fracking. The NG rises up from the cracks and the hole up to the surface to be collected, also taking with it some of the contaminated water, also known as produced water (contaminated with heavy metals and radioactive materials that are hard to dispose of safely).
NG is favored in the United States because it is cheap, especially now every since oil prices rose. Additionally, the US has huge reserves of NG underground, so much so that we have turned some of our importing stations into exporting stations. Another major argument for why NG is popular is because we have so much, we do not need to rely on outside countries for energy.
Some of the drawbacks are pretty significant, though.
As mentioned before, NG fracking uses fracking fluid, which is seriously hazardous when it comes back up with produced water. Disposing of it properly is expensive and not perfect because it can leak.
Also, fracking uses enormous amount of water, like 3-8 million gallons over each well’s lifetime. The water table is also at risk to leakage because the drilling goes past the water table, and leaking is possible, especially when unregulated. Companies are often unwilling to give away their “secret formula” for fracking fluid, making studying the effects difficult. The fact that the drilling is taking place so far underground is also difficult to study any ramifications. There are very few regulations, and they differ state to state, even though nature does not subscribe to the arbitrary state lines. Earthquakes have also been connected to fracking, as the wastewater may lubricate fault lines. NG still emits CO2 and nitrogen oxide. It is a finite resource and may not always be cheap. Finally, transporting NG has been a major concern because it is mainly transported via pipelines, which can leak, especially methane which is a major greenhouse gas and fire hazard.
Whether we like it or not, NG is here to stay for the foreseeable future. It has many drawbacks, but all energy has its price. It is really a matter of how far we are willing to go for all our electricity luxuries.
In Soil We Trust