On Friday, Jan.13, I spoke about how hydraulic fracturing — a process that produces fractures in subsoil shale rock formations to stimulate the flow of natural gas or oil, thus increasing the volumes of hydrocarbons that can be recovered for commercial use — is here to stay in the global world of energy production (see “Why Fracking Is Here to Stay,” which ran in this space on Jan. 13).
Today, I am going to talk about why it shouldn’t be.
Hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, can lead to jobs, increased revenues and energy security for the countries and regions where it is developed.
But it can also lead to possible dangers for the environment and human health.
One of the biggest concerns that fracking poses is the potential contamination of groundwater in the areas around where it is conducted.
Every fracking well requires a minimum of eight million gallons of water, plus up to 40,000 gallons of potentially harmful chemicals, which can seep into surrounding soil and aquifers.
Moreover, some of those chemicals can escape into the air as methane gas, one of the greenhouse pollutants most associated with contributing to climate change.
Other contaminants that can be released into the air during fracking include: benzene, toluene, xylene, ethyl benzene (BTEX), ground level ozone, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde and metals contained in diesel fuel combustion, all of which can lead to respiratory and digestive problems, and some of which have been linked to cancer, organ damage, nervous system disorders and birth defects.
Crystalline silica sand, which is the main substance use in the fracking process, has been shown to be responsible for the lung disease silicosis when inhaled.
In total, about 600 chemicals are used in the hydraulic fracturing process, all of which can leach into surrounding air, soil and water.
Today, there are no less than 1.1 million active fracking wells in the United States, and an untallied number throughout the rest of the world.
So far, in the United States alone, there have been at least 1,000 documented incidences of contamination of local aquifers as a result of fracking seepage.
And then, of course, there is the matter of wastewater — massive quantities of wastewater — which fracking companies are obliged to contain but often end up dumping into local streams and rivers.
This wastewater can contain toxins such as radioactive radium and benzene, which are then dispersed downstream.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), less than half of fracturing wastewater is recovered and disposed of properly, meaning that it can sit for decades on end, eventually finding its way and contaminating local farmlands and drinking water supplies.
Another disturbing consequence of fracking is seismic destabilization.
The U.S. Geological Survey has officially confirmed that hydraulic fracturing can cause earthquakes.
“The increase in seismicity has been found to coincide with the injection of wastewater in deep disposal wells in several locations, including Colorado, Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Ohio,” a recent Geological Survey report stated.
Most of those earthquakes have been minor, but, while there were no indications in the report as to how many new seismic events might occur in the coming years as a result of hydraulic fracturing, there is only so much disruption that Mother Nature can endure before she reacts bellicosely.
Fracking is big business, and, as I have already stated, it is likely to continue as the up-and-coming favorite option for energy production, not only in the United States but around the globe.
Hydraulic fracturing will continue to bring in big bucks for energy corporations, but the ultimate price will be paid by the local residents and the environment.
Thérèse Margolis can be reached at [email protected].