Hydrofracking is a method of extracting gas and oil from the Earth in areas where conventional drilling is not possible. The process involves smashing rocks with millions of gallons of water and chemicals, which force gas to the surface. Workers drill a well thousands of feet below the Earth’s surface and force chemicals and water through. Fracking is an effective way to extract natural gas, but the potential environmental effects are devastating and negate the benefits.
Take a look at some numbers. Each fracking site uses 40,000 gallons of chemicals and 8 million gallons of water. The country obtains 300,000 barrels of oil per day fracking. There are 1.1 million gas wells in the U.S. for a total of 360 gallons of chemicals and 72 trillion gallons of water to keep the fracking sites operational.
The fracking process produces thousands of gallons of wastewater that need to go somewhere. The water is full of toxic chemicals such as and can seep into the groundwater of local communities. The chemicals end up in their drinking water. Sometimes the wastewater is taken to a sewage plant that is not equipped to treat it properly, and then released into rivers where some people get their drinking water. Wastewater contains radioactive elements and hydrocarbons, which are 17 times higher in areas close to fracking wells. Storage requirements for wastewater vary from state to state, with some states having little to no regulations to protect the environment.
The majority of water used in fracking remains below the surface, which removes water from its natural cycle and can intensify droughts in areas facing dry conditions. The demand for water in the gas and oil industry hurts farmers, as they all have to compete for sources of water and have better financial resources to get it.
Wastewater sits in pits open to the air to evaporate, which sends volatile organic compounds or VOCs into the atmosphere which contaminate the air, ground-level ozone, and acid rain. Exposure to these can lead to or contribute to conditions such as asthma, headaches, cancer, heart attacks, and anemia. Babies born to mothers exposed to the contaminated air have an additional 30 percent chance of having a congenital heart defect. Homes in fracking areas have 39 percent more radon concentrations in their homes than homes located in areas without fracking. Wyoming’s air quality close to fracking sites was worse than the large city of Los Angeles, with ozone levels reaching 124 parts per billion compared to Los Angeles at 114 ppb. The Environmental Protection Agency set 75 ppb as the maximum healthy limit for the air.
It’s been an idea for awhile, but reports from the U.S. Geological Survey confirmed that fracking causes earthquakes. Faults in states where fracking occurs are starting to move after not moving in millions of years, including portions of AL, AK, CO, KS, NM, OH, and TX. From the years 1973-2008, there were 21 earthquakes with a magnitude of at least 3.0. Compare that to the period from 2009-2013 when that same region experienced 99 earthquakes with a 3.0 magnitude or higher. Oklahoma experienced 585 earthquakes in 2014 alone. The increase in seismic activity is a direct result of injecting wastewater into disposal wells in these states.
Natural gas is primarily composed of methane. It traps 25 times more heat as one of the other contributors to global warming, carbon dioxide. Approximately four percent of the methane used in the fracking process is released into the environment, negating some of the benefits of fracking being cleaner than coal. The increasing levels of methane gas contribute to heating up the Earth. Even small leaks can create excessive methane levels and eliminate the benefits of using natural gas due to its impact on climate.
Spills in the soil
Spills are inevitable in the oil and gas industry, and fracking has increased chemically tainted soil by more than 5,000 percent in the past ten years. Pipelines can erode, and leaks can spill thousands of gallons of oil into rivers, lakes, and surrounding areas.
It is blatantly apparent that fracking is detrimental to the environment. The risks of fracking to the environment and people living in the vicinity exceed any potential benefits. Many of the impacts aren’t immediately apparent, which requires years of studies and observation to pinpoint when problems surface.
Kylie is the editor at Green & Growing. She enjoy the outdoors, especially when she can go on a fun hike or adventure. She likes to focus on the perks green living. She feels it is so important to take care of our earth and hope to spread more awareness as she edits and writes.