The Consequences of Fracking

by Zachary Corradino on March 28, 2014

Hydraulic fracturing, colloquially known as fracking, is the process of fracturing rock by pressurized liquid. The most common form of fracking is induced hydraulic fracturing which involves mixing sand and chemicals in order to break rock above a well containing fluids such as petroleum or natural gas. Fracking was first performed in the late 1940’s and has become a very popular practice in the United States where an estimated 1/3 of all fracking operations worldwide take place. While the gain of valuable natural resources may come from fracking, the process causes serious risks to health and safety to communities and the environment.

Water supplies across the US and abroad have been contaminated by fracking operations. The process aggressively forces chemically tainted water into the ground, which sometimes can end up in communities’ water supply. The composition of much of the chemical compounds used in fracking operations is not known. This is because, interestingly enough, this information does not have to be released to the public. In 2005, fracking was made exempt from the Safe Water Drinking Act by a piece of legislation passed by Congress. The exemption allows gas companies to inject unknown dangerous chemicals into areas proximal to many of our water sources without reporting their toxicity and quantity to the public or government. Studies have shown that these chemicals, many harmful on their own, also produce highly toxic byproducts such as naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORMs), dissolved solids, liquid hydrocarbons, such as benzene, toluene, and xylene, and heavy metals.

In addition to harmful these chemicals getting into drinking water, there have been multiple reports throughout the US where natural gas has leaked out of wells into underground aquifers. Last year, a man from North Dakota released a video on YouTube, which showed him lighting his tap water on fire. In the video, the man seems cautious to attempt this and he later stated, “First time I did it, it was a huge fireball [that] took up the entire sink – so that’s why I’m a little jumpy doing it. I don’t want to blow up the bathroom here.” The flammable water is due to methane gas seeping into the water supply. In a similar case, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection conducted an investigation of claims of flammable water. The results revealed that methane contamination had affected 18 drinking-water wells in the area as a direct result of fracking operations. Despite arguments from gas companies that the methane was naturally occurring, a US Environmental Protection Agency investigation also clearly linked contaminants traceable to fracking activity.

Even though the industry claims that obtaining natural resources through fracking is the way to energy independence, the risks of fracking clearly outweigh the gains. They may claim that it will create new job opportunities and cheaper and energy, but there are much safer and more sustainable energy sources such as hydro, solar, and wind power that do not harm the environment and the community.

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