Sample Biology Essay Paper on Hydraulic Fracturing

Hydraulic Fracturing

For decades, fossil fuels and natural gas have been the principal sources of energy in domestic and industrial appliances. The global demand for energy has been on an exponential rise and experts warn on the depletion of oil and natural gas resources and recommendations the use of alternative sources of energy. Declining demand for oil and the corresponding increase of alternative energy has placed North America on the edge of an incredibly vital step towards a new energy economy. Oil sands, alternatively referred to as tar sands have surfaced as a significant alternative source of oil occurring in the Alberta province of Canada.  Extraction of surface deposits of the sands is relatively easy as it only involves shoveling and dumping them on tracks, extraction of deeper deposits is rather challenging and involves hydraulic fracturing, a technique that has been largely critiqued for its environmental impact.

Oil sands are a form of exceptional petroleum deposits, primarily a mixture of bitumen and sand (Hartridge, 2007). Natural deposits of tar sands have been reported in a vast number of countries, however, the largest deposits are in the Alberta province of Canada. For shallow occurring deposits, tall excavators are used in extraction whereby the topsoil is scraped off and the deposits shoveled and transported to refining sites via large trucks. Hydraulic fracturing is used in the extraction of deposits that occur very deep on the surface of the earth (Jackson et al, 2011). Hydraulic fracturing is an incentive whereby pressure is passed on via fluid or gas with the intent of producing cracks or enlarging existing ones in underground rockstar sand deposits. It involves thrusting a blended mixture of water, sand, and chemical additives at high pressure to form small interconnecting fractures that seek to boost the porosity of targeted sediments. After these fractures are created, they are widened by sand particles, permitting the flow of the stressed gas or oil to surface collection pools (Chesapeake Energy, 2012).

The production of tar sands has been cited as a very ineffective way of oil extraction as is a highly carbon-intensive process. The process produces roughly three times more greenhouse gas emissions than the process of producing conventional oil and therefore jeopardizes the efforts of combating climate change. The process consumes enormous volumes of water of which over 90% of it ends up as toxic waste which is dumped in pools. These toxic substances through underground channels have been reported to contaminate drinking water wells (EPA, 2012).  The Canadian oil sands occur in the boreal forest and their extraction has amounted to a significant destruction of the forest reserve and its ecosystem. Another controversy that stems from the process involves the disclosure of chemicals used in fracturing (Hall & Keith, 2011), the majority of companies involved in hydraulic fracturing has been reluctant in making public the composition of their fracturing fluid and this has raised concerns about their safety.

To curb the hazards of hydraulic fracturing and oil sands, a number of measures should be employed. First and foremost, over-dependence on oil for energy should be discouraged and the use of renewable sources of energy to be encouraged instead. The government should put up legislation and policies that bar exploitation of tar sand oil as well as eliminate their subsidies and financing (Bruno et al, 2010). Measures should also be put up that advocate for reduced demand for oil as a transportation fuel. Although the tar sands industry is fast growing as an alternative oil resource, the environmental effects and human health concerns of the extraction process when put in the equation makes the process burdensome and should therefore be discouraged

References

Chesapeake Energy. (2012). Marcellus Shale Hydraulic Fracturing . Oklahoma : Chesapeake Energy.s

Hartridge, A. (2007). Oil sands extraction in Alberta, Canada. Retrieved April 2, 2014, from WWF Global: http://wwf.panda.org/wwf_news/press_releases/special_coverage/oil_sands/

Keith, B. H. (2011). Hydraulic fracturing–a primer. The Enterprise, 41(11)  Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/903903264?accountid=161

Kenny Bruno, C. E.-L., Baizel, B., Casey-Lefkowitz, S., Shope, E., & Colarulli, K. (2010). Tar Sands Invasion: How Dirty and Expensive Oil from Canada Threatens America’s New Energy Economy. Corporate Ethics International; EARTHWORKS; Natural Resources Defense Council; Sierra Club.

Robert B. Jackson, Brooks Rainey Pearson, Stephen G. Osborn,  Nathaniel R. Warner, & Avner Vengosh. (2011). Research and Policy Recommendations for Hydraulic  Fracturing and ShaleGas Extraction.  Durham, NC.: Center on Global Change, Duke University.

US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); Office of Research and Development. (2012). Study of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing on Drinking Water Resources. Washington, DC: US Environmental Protection Agency.