Fracking and Water: The Dangers of Hydraulic Fracturing

Water and the Environment

Hydraulic Fracturing and Water

Shale is growing in importance as a source of oil and natural gas that energy companies are seeking to explore and extract. In the U.S., the Marcellus Shale Deposit underpins no less than six U.S. states: New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, Virginia and Kentucky. Columbia University estimates that 262 trillion cubic feet of natural gas are waiting in that shale. The U.S. consumes 24 trillion cubic feet of gas per year, and hydraulic fracturing is a newly developed way to get at a 10-year, cheap source of energy at a steep environmental cost.

What is hydraulic fracturing?

Hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as “fracking” is a method of cracking, or fracturing rock in order to release the gas and oil it contains. Drills bore into the rock, followed by massive, high-pressure injections of fracking “fluids” to further fracture the rock and keep the fractures open. The fluid contains a laundry list of unregulated chemicals and sands that keep the fracture open once the injection is complete. If clean water is the goal, fracking and water don’t belong in the same sentence.

Why does it pollute the water supply?

Fracking fluid is needed in incredibly large amounts to accomplish the task of breaking rock. Massive amounts of fresh water may be used that might otherwise go to agriculture or human consumption. When chemicals are added and the mixture is injected under tremendous pressure, it can be forced into groundwater that supplies reservoirs, streams, lakes, rivers, and wells. The fluids remain underground, permanently, in “natural storage.” Fracking and water aren’t a good mix.

What contaminants get into the water?

The list of chemicals that fracking and water require is long. Trimethylbenzene, butoxy ethanol, acetone and acetic acid are but a few. High pressure can also cause well failures, allowing this toxic soup to leak into aquifers. The “lighter” the chemical is, the more easily it separates from the fracking fluid and the more likely it is to seep into our drinking water. With as many as a million gallons in each fracking well, fracking and water are a toxic combination.

What can I do to help stop pollution from fracking?

Stopping fracking in your community isn’t as easy as condemning Halliburton, which originated the process in the 1940s and champions it today. There are ways to stop it, though. When the state of Arkansas began experiencing a rash of earthquakes after hydraulic fracturing got well underway, its government placed a moratorium on the process until more research could be done. Lawsuits are also in progress in Pennsylvania, where a town recently experienced a hydraulic fracturing accident affected the town’s drinking water. Grass-roots organizations are forming all over the country, and are another way of saying fracking and water don’t belong together.