Hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking,” has become a major environmental issue in the United States. Although fracking was first used in the 1940s to get the gas out of conventional wells, it is now responsible for the surge in U.S. oil and natural gas production. Basically, fracking is blasting huge amounts of water, sand, and chemicals deep into underground rock formations to access valuable oil and natural gas. While this is definitely an alternative method to produce energy, it is an environmental issue and an environmental nightmare in some states. In many ways, fracking is binding the US even more tightly to a fossil-fuel future and deepening the risks of climate change.
Fracking raises many environmental and social issues, such as the ecological impact to aquatic resources, as well as the dewatering of drinking water aquifers; the transportation of so much water also impacts localized air quality and it creates, safety and road repair issues. Mining sand generates its own range of impacts, including water consumption and air emissions, as well as potential health problems related to crystalline silica.
With 90% of fracking fluids remaining in the ground, the variety of chemicals that are used in the hydraulic fracturing fluid are deemed to be “hazardous wastes.” Spills of fracturing chemicals and waste during transportation and waste disposal have contaminated soil and surface waters. In many oil and gas producing regions, there has been a degradation of air quality as drilling increases. There have been concentrations of radioactive materials in wastewater from natural gas wells, and torn pit liners can lead to contamination by toxic chemicals of soil and groundwater. Although, companies have been fined for releasing radioactive waste into rivers and private wells, this has not decreased the number of incidents damaging to the environment.
Many fracturing fluid chemicals are known to be toxic to humans and wildlife, and several are known to cause cancer. There are many ways fracking chemicals can affect human: by ingesting chemicals that have been spilled into the drinking water sources, through direct skin contact with the chemicals or wastes, or by breathing in vapors from the flowback wastes stored in pits or tanks. Virtually no site is off limits to energy companies since they have fracked wells on church property, school grounds and in gated developments. Some side effects to living next to a well can include nausea, headaches and nosebleeds, as well as invasive chemical smells, constant drilling, and slumping property prices.
The fracking frenzy may have boosted the U.S. fuel supply – but at what cost to this fragile planet we call home.
To learn more about fracking check out a video by National Geographic