The combination of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and horizontal drilling has revolutionized U.S. energy. The country has gone from heavily relying on foreign oil to producing enough for its domestic consumption and international exports in less than two decades.
The shale revolution has lowered prices, strengthened the U.S. geopolitically and made entrepreneurs and landowners very wealthy. The U.S. is now predicted to become a net energy exporter this year.
However, the process of fracking is controversial. The potential harm to the environment and local communities is polarizing. Opponents argue that water contamination and air pollution warrant stricter regulation and in some cases, a complete ban. Proponents say there is little or no evidence linking pollution to gas drilling. A common argument is that burning natural gas is more environmentally friendly than burning coal.
Some reports indicate individuals may have been harmed during the process, often due to the mishandling of wastewater or improper building of boreholes. Bryan Latkanich, who leased his southwestern Pennsylvania property to Chevron, claims drilling there has caused him and his son health problems and has damaged his property. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Health and Chevron have not found a link between the drilling and his claims. "Ultimately at this point, I just want to get a buyout and move my son away from here and myself so we can try to get better and have a normal life," says Latkanich.
Whether fracking should be allowed or not has been widely discussed. France, Germany, and Ireland have banned the practice. So have some states, including New York, Maryland, and Vermont. Democratic presidential hopefuls Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have said they intend to change regulations at the federal level. Other candidates like Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg are suggesting limits on production or stronger regulations.
Watch the video below to learn more about how the U.S. shale revolution has impacted American energy consumers and residents of communities where most gas production has occurred.