natural gas in United States has soared twelvefold and is expected to grow even further. Some of the positive effects on the US economy are significant:
- 169,000 new jobs in the oil and gas industry between 2010 and 2012
- Lower energy prices (in some cases)
- Decline of coal power
- Lower imports
What many of us don’t know is the environmental cost coming from these benefits. One of the techniques used to achieve this oil and gas boom is fracking, a dirty drilling method that threatens the environment and human health.
Fracking (or Hydraulic fracturing) has been used for more than 60 years to extract underground resources. The process involves injecting fluids such as water, chemicals, and sand underneath the ground at a high pressure in order to create cracks (fractures) to release the oil or natural gas trapped in shale formations.
The report released in 2013 by the Environment America Research & Policy Center, Fracking by the Numbers, shows how massive the damage from fracking is and that it occurs on an unimaginable scale.
Table: US National Environmental and Public Health Impacts of Fracking
- Toxic wastewater
- Chemicals Used
- Water Used
- Global Warming Pollution
Fracking generates huge volumes of toxic wastewater – in many cases containing cancer-causing and even radioactive substances. When this toxic waste escapes to the surface, drinking water, air quality and public safety are in grave danger.
The fracking fluid that is pumped underground consists of ~99.2% water and ~0.8% mixed chemicals such as methanol, BTEX compounds, diesel fuel, hydrogen fluoride, sulfuric acid, naphthalene, formaldehyde and many more. Read more about the chemicals used for fracking and how dangerous are they for our health and drinking water.
Even though these chemicals are a small component of the whole fluid, the total volume of chemicals used in the drilling operations is enormous. For each frack, up to 300 tons of chemicals are used and one third of all frack jobs use at least one cancer-causing chemical.
Water is the largest component of fracking fluids. An average well may require up to 8 million gallons of water over the course of its lifetime.
In 2013 a study released by the non-profit group Ceres, analyzed 25,450 fracked wells across the United States and found that 47% are located in areas that face high water stress. Around 80% of the available fresh water in those regions is already being used in residential homes, farms or businesses.
While most of the water from the industrial sector returns to the normal water cycle for further use, fracking turns good and clean water into toxic wastewater, much of which has to be permanently disposed, making this practice unsustainable and harmful to nature.
Methane is a greenhouse gas 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide and is released into the atmosphere at multiple stages during a fracking operation, including the hydraulic fracturing process, well completion, and also in the phase of processing and delivery of gas to end users.