There are two ways we extract oil from the earth: drilling and fracking. Oil drilling has been around for a very long time. It began as early as the fourth century in China, then spread across Asia and the Middle East. Oil drilling began in the United States in 1859, when a man named Edwin Drake struck oil in Pennsylvania after drilling 69 feet into the ground. Today, the United States consumes more oil in volume than any other nation.
Drilling Versus Fracking
Drilling down into the earth, either on land or water, has been the most common way of extracting oil for many years. While hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has been around since the 1940s, during the past 10 years it has become more prevalent and caused quite a bit of controversy.
Fracking is the process of injecting high-pressure water, chemicals and sand into shale beneath the earth's surface to release gas and oil trapped within. Advocates of the process claim it is a safe and clean source of energy. Critics, on the other hand, worry fracking will pollute drinking water and air, increase global warming and trigger earthquakes.
The Rapid Rise of Fracking
The number of natural gas wells in the U.S. doubled between 2000 and 2010, from 276,000 to 510,000, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Approximately 13,000 new wells are drilled every year and a 2014 study revealed that at least 15.3 million Americans have lived within a mile of a fracking well drilled since 2000.
The Economic Impact of Fracking
According to a 2015 study, the boom in fracking has been a boon to the economy. The study revealed that:
- Natural gas prices in the U.S. dropped by 47 percent.
- Consumer gas bills dropped up to $200 annually per household.
- All types of energy consumers saw economic gains of $74 billion annually.
The Global Energy Institute reports the fracking industry has created 1.7 million jobs with 3.5 million projected by 2035.
There have been numerous environmental studies that have found fracking can have a negative impact on air and water quality and cause earthquakes.
- Air quality: Air is polluted by increased truck traffic, the gas that is flared or burned during the fracking process and emissions from diesel-powered pumps.
- Water quality: Contamination of surface water and groundwater can result from erosion due to ground disturbances, underground migration of gases and chemical spills, or releases of chemicals and other fluids.
- Earthquakes: Fracking wells may change geology and disrupt the earth, triggering earthquakes. Earthquakes have been on the rise in areas where fracking is prevalent.
World Oil Pricing
While fracking initially disrupted the global oil market and had the effect of depressing crude oil prices, oil is back up to almost $60 a barrel, as of November, 2018.
It is difficult to say what the long-term economic and environmental effects of oil drilling and fracking will be. The fracking boom happened so quickly that we are only now beginning to sort out the benefits and damage of the practice.
- TIME: American Oil Well History
- U.S. Oil and Gas Industry: Statistics and Facts
- National Geographic: How Has Fracking Changed Our Future?
- Live Science: Facts About Fracking
- Broookings Institute: The Economic Benefits of Fracking
- Global Energy Institute: U.S. Fracking Boom, Behind the Numbers
- Yale Climate Connections: Pros and Cons of Fracking: 5 Key Issues
- EIA. "Oil Net Imports Have Declined Since 2011, With Their Value Falling Slower Than Volume." Accessed July 19, 2020.
- EIA. "U.S. Field Production of Crude Oil (Thousand Barrels)." Accessed July 19, 2020.
- Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. "Desperately Seeking Workers in the Oil Patch," Page 2. Accessed July 19, 2020.
Heather Skyler is a business journalist and editor who has written for wide variety of publications, including Newsweek.com, The New York Times and Delta's SKY magazine. She has a bachelor's degree in English from Miami University and a master's degree in writing from the University of Washington in Seattle. Before writing for a variety of publications, she taught business writing in Seattle.