Thursday, May 23, 2013

What is Fracking? Why is it Bad?

Fracking is the name for extracting oil and gas by injecting millions of gallons of highly pressurized water, sand and chemicals, into a well-bore, after charges have blasted open the first cracks in the rock. As the solution is pumped in, it makes more cracks, hence, the name hydraulic fracturing.

Watch this 2 min. animation: Horizontal Drilling and Hydraulic Fracturing

Fracking can cause serious side-effects to the immediate environment. Once the oil and gas have been removed, the sandstone or shale rock base is left with gaps that make the bedrock unstable. Gas companies try to fill those cracks with sand or other particulates to keep the cracks from collapsing, but that doesn’t always help.

In areas where the fracking is done far below the surface, cracks are nearly impossible to fill. They can cause minor earthquakes, which in turn can damage the cement casings of the wells so gas and oil can seep out and contaminate aquifers. It doesn’t take a genius to recognize the health risks associated with the presence of oil in the water table. Cancer and other illnesses are common in areas of high fracking activity.

Water Use

  • In 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated that 70 to 140 billion gallons of water are used to fracture 35,000 wells in the United States each year. This is approximately the annual water consumption of 40 to 80 cities each with a population of 50,000. 

  • It has been estimated that the transportation of 1 million gallons of water requires 200 truck trips. Deep, horizontal wells can use 2 to 10 million gallons of  water to fracture a single well. That is 400 to 2000 truck trips! So, not only does water used for hydraulic fracturing deplete fresh water supplies and impact aquatic habitat, the transportation of so much water also creates localized air quality, safety and road repair issues. 

Toxic Chemicals 

  • A variety of chemicals are used in hydraulic fracturing fluids. The oil and gas industry and trade groups are quick to point out that chemicals typically make up just 0.5 and 2.0% of the total volume of the fracturing fluid. But, when millions of gallons of water are being used, the amount of those chemicals per fracking operation is very large. For example, four million gallons of water for one fracturing operation would use 80 to 330 tons of chemicals. 

Sand and Proppants

  • Shale gas wells can use more than 4 million pounds of proppant per well. Frac sand mines are springing up across the country, from Wisconsin to Texas, bringing with them their own set of impacts. Mining sand for proppant use generates its own range of impacts, including water consumption and air emissions, as well as potential health problems related to crystalline silica. 

Air Quality

  •  In many oil and gas producing regions, there has been a degradation of air quality as drilling increases. In Texas, high levels of benzene have been measured in the air near wells in the Barnett Shale gas fields. These volatile air toxics may be originating from a variety of gas-field sources such as separators, dehydrators, condensers, compressors, chemical spills, and leaking pipes and valves. 

Waste Water 

  • Increasingly, research is being conducted on the potential air emissions released during the fracturing flow back stage, when wastewater returns to the surface. Shales contain numerous organic hydrocarbons, and additional chemicals are injected underground during shale gas drilling, well stimulation (e.g., hydraulic fracturing), and well workovers. 

  • The Pittsburgh University Center for Healthy Environments and Communities (CHEC) has been examining how organic compounds in the shale can be mobilized during fracturing and gas extraction processes...These organic compounds are brought to the surface in the fracturing flowback or produced water, and often go into open impoundments (frac ponds), where the waste water, “will offgas its organic compounds into the air. This becomes an air pollution problem, and the organic compounds are now termed Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAP’s).”

Learn lots more, especially also about the type of  Toxic Chemicals used and/or released with fracking by visiting: Hydraulic Fracturing 101