Fracking, thought by many to be the answer to long-term oil production, could prove to be a bubble about to burst.
U.S. oil production currently tops seven million barrels a day, more than a quarter of which is derived from shale formations around the country. However, records of production by some of the most successful fracking companies indicate that dreams of energy independence may be premature.
Fracking is the subject of contention between drillers and geologists as it is an extremely destructive process: layers of shale and sediment are blasted open or dissolved with acid, allowing crude oil to flow into horizontal pipes. These “tight oil formations” yield high initial volumes of crude, but each site’s production drops off up to 70 percent within the first year. Writer Steve Austin compares this to wringing out a towel soaked in water.
The number of “sweet spots” – small areas of higher productivity – will decline as fracking continues, forcing drillers to concentrate greater effort in areas with lower yield. Energy experts suggest that the cost of extracting crude will continue to rise and drive up oil prices until there is no potential for growth. Proponents of the practice, meanwhile, argue that developing technology will only improve their ability to access oil and natural gas reserves in traditionally harder-to-reach locations.
Geologists and environmental activists have been vocal opponents to fracking, citing the damage the practice causes to the land, pollution of natural resources in the area, and the introduction of toxic chemicals into the atmosphere.
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