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Challenges and Opportunities of Shale Gas Extraction via Hydraulic Fracturing

Abstract

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a technique used to excavate natural gas and oil trapped within porous layers of shale thousands of feet below the surface. The process stands to provide enormous benefits to the United States as a means of harvesting a previously unobtainable source of energy and of alleviating dependence on foreign oil. There are clear challenges which must be overcome, however, to fairly address public concerns over the amount of toxic chemicals used and the potential dangers posed to drinking water resources. Written from an engineering standpoint, this report aims to identify the challenges that the industry is facing while posing reasonable solutions. The body of the report examines established literature on the technology utilized by fracking, its impacts on the environment and human health, the current state of government regulations on fracking, its impact on the U.S. economy, and its required infrastructure, among other topics of interest. With improving technology, many fracking problems are already being addressed. A challenge, however, is for industry to begin taking some appropriate, more preventative actions. Certain regulations have been enacted, yet opportunities still exist where industry can implement break-through concepts and abandon outdated and harmful technologies. Serious problems which must be addressed are the insufficient monitoring of the life of injected chemicals and the lack of options for handling produced wastewater. It would thus be of great value to equip public facilities with the ability to treat the complex waste water produced from hydrofracking, as many waste-water treatment plants in the country are not currently capable of this. Additionally, an overhaul of current regulations to increase their transparency and overall effectiveness would significantly minimize the hazardous footprint of the industry and improve its outlook for the future.

Guy Francis Mongelli

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