Many solutions have been put forth to reduce the national dependency on oil. Some solutions suggested in the book Energy: Science, Policy and the Pursuit of Sustainability by Robert Bent, Lloyd Orr and Randall Baker are severe increases in oil taxes or removing oil subsidies efforts to increase the cost of gas and evoke a reduction in oil consumption.
Instead of implementing these drastic and expensive measures, perhaps by providing viable transportation alternatives, the reliance on oil will begin to decrease. One new area of technology that has the potential to facilitate this is the electric car.
Above is an image of a 2012 electric car.
Turning to electric cars instead of traditional cars can bring the fuel source to America and reduce our dependency on foreign sources of energy. The electricity generated and used by electric cars comes from power plants that utilize coal and natural gas. Though coal can be very detrimental to the environment, natural gas is a relatively clean source of energy that has been recently discovered to be in great supply throughout the United States. Hydraulic fracturing is a new technology that is allowing vast amounts of natural gas to be extracted from previously unproductive shale.
Though currently the electric car can only travel about 100 miles on a single charge, new battery technologies are being developed to increase this distance dramatically. Improving batteries would make electric cars a cost-effective and energy conscious alternative to traditional vehicles. Increasing the number of electric car charging stations throughout the country and advances in technology have the potential to awaken the public to the possibilities of reliable gas-free transportation. In the near future, electric cars could become a serious alternative to traditional cars and allow the nation to shift away from foreign oil and toward domestic sources of energy.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a cutting edge technique for extracting natural gas from shale. The process involves injecting water, sand, and chemicals into a shale formation at very high pressures. The objective is to fracture the rock and release the natural gas for collection. This process has allowed previously unproductive shale to become a large producer of energy.
This cartoon shows how the overall fracking process works.
There are numerous injections sites that have sprung up overnight all across the country to take advantage of the large reserves. Though fracking generates large quantities of natural gas and provides thousands of jobs, not everyone is sold on the idea. Residents in proximity to these new injections sites are expressing growing concern over the safety of fracking.
Many residents are concerned that their drinking water may become contaminated by the fracking chemicals and gas. In one study, the EPA found evidence of contamination in the drinking water of a town in Wyoming. Due to the complicated nature of subsurface geology however, occurrences at one location aren’t necessarily an indicator that it would happen at another location.
Along the same lines, fracking is being blamed for earthquakes in McDonald Ohio. Injecting high pressured water into the subsurface has been linked to earthquakes and low-level seismic activity in other situations, so it is highly possible that it was the fracking that triggered the 4.0 earthquake. This is especially likely at the injection site of McDonald because it is in close proximity to a fault line. The injected water could create changes in pressure that would cause the rocks near the fault to shift and trigger an earthquake. Though fracking can trigger seismic activity, I don’t believe that the resulting earthquake would be strong enough to be damaging. And even though seismic activity is occurring at this location, it doesn’t mean that it would cause earthquakes in other locations.
The solution to these issues and the others surrounding fracking may be to investigate the process and its effects in greater detail before the process becomes the more prevalent. Or perhaps, going to the extreme measure of breaking rock with high pressure water and chemicals is not the direction energy should be moving. Instead of exploiting the environment for every last bit of fossil fuel, our directions could be refocused on finding new and more sustainable resources. If there are severe environmental complications caused by fracking, the companies responsible may end up paying more money in damages than it would have cost to explore a renewable source of energy.