More than 45,000 acres of public land in Utah was approved for fracking in 2015, prompting several environmentally focused companies to file formal protests. In spite of the petitions, the land was approved for fracking by the Bureau of Land Management in January.
Some of the parcels went on sale Feb. 16. The remaining parcels are set to go to auction sometime in May, according to the Bureau of Land Management.
The sale includes parcels of land from the Bureau of Land Management’s Moab, Price, Vernal and Fillmore field offices in central and eastern Utah and within the Fishlake National Forest in Sevier County.
During a fracking job, fresh water is used to crack rocks underground and release natural gas in a chemical mixture known as fracking fluid. Each fracking well uses between two and five million gallons of fresh water according to Clean Water Action. Once the water is mixed with the chemicals needed to break down rocks, it becomes permanently contaminated and must be stored in disposal wells.
Thomas H. Morris, a BYU geology professor and director of the department of geological sciences, said fracking has helped Utah’s energy sector become self-sustaining. While fracking concerns environmentalists, there are socioeconomic benefits to the process. Fracking increases the rate at which oil and gas can be extracted, increasing the current available supply of oil significantly. This has led to lower oil prices on a global scale according to Investopedia, a website “devoted to investing education.”
“We’ve become so successful (at fracking) in the last 10 years that we’ve started to supply our own needs,” Morris said. “There’s a flood of oil out there on the market, and that’s why oil and gasoline are so cheap right now.”
The lower cost of gas and oil allows consumers to spend their money elsewhere, and industries that are dependent on refined oil are able to produce their products at a much lower price, according to a BBC World Service economics correspondent.
The oil industry also creates jobs. According to IHS, a global information company, “The unconventional oil and natural gas value chain and energy-related chemical activity together supported more than 2.1 million (American) jobs in 2012.”
While fracking has its benefits, the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club claims it poses a variety of environmental issues, including water contamination, harmful air emissions, damage to landscapes and wildlife, and leaks.
Living Rivers, a company focused on ecological restoration while meeting human needs, is one of the companies that has filed a formal protest against selling Utah land for fracking. John Weisheit, conservation director for Living Rivers, mentioned some of the risks associated with fracking.
“Fracking means we are running out of fossil fuels and do not have the courage to make the transition to other kinds of reduced-impact energy development,” Weisheit said. “Fracking means we are willing to cause more damage to a damaged atmosphere and hydrosphere. Fracking means we are not willing to accept the limits of nature.”
Another concern is earthquakes fracking may cause. After water has been pumped into wells to break rocks, the drilling fluid is extracted and placed in disposal wells encased in concrete thousands of feet underground. StateImpact, a reporting project of the NPR, claims when these disposal wells are placed along fault lines, the drilling fluid acts as lubricant that can cause a fault to slip, triggering earthquakes.
As the fracking industry continues to grow, companies look for new places to expand, including public lands such as national and state parks. This has led to an uproar from many environmental groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity and Living Rivers located in Salt Lake City, which has filed a formal protest against the impending auction.
Utah isn’t the only state to face fracking protesters. A national movement involving more than 400 organizations called “Keep It in the Ground” has encouraged President Obama and federal officials to halt oil and gas auctions slated for Utah, Washington, Nevada, Wyoming, Colorado and Alaska.
“We live in a hydrocarbon society, so it’s a little bit of a trade off,” Morris said. “Not that we shouldn’t be pushing for better energy fuels, better energy sources. But to try and shut down oil and gas production, we couldn’t survive as a country.”