Insufficient disclosure and protection are common features of states` fracking laws. In Texas, for example, companies regularly exploit a loophole in trade secrets to avoid disclosing the chemicals they use in fracturing fluid. Companies used Texas` trade secret exemption about 19,000 times in the first eight months of 2012. Pennsylvania state agencies have also confirmed more than 100 cases of pollution over the past five years, despite state regulations on hydraulic fracturing. Hydraulic fracturing pollution occurs even in regulated states. The best way to protect our water, air and climate is to ban fracking now. 8. But hasn`t fracking been around in the U.S. for many years? Yes, but today`s fracking techniques are new and present new dangers. Technological change has led to an explosion in fossil fuel production in areas where companies could not recover oil and gas profitably just a decade ago. Directional drilling, for example, is a new technique that has significantly expanded access to rock formations. Companies also use large volumes of fluid to fill horizontal « wells » that sometimes stretch for miles. And oil and gas producers are using new chemical beers called « slippery water, » which allow the injection fluid to flow fast enough to create the high pressure needed to break the rock.
As fracking methods change and fracking grows, so does the threat to public health and the environment. 9. How can fracking booms damage infrastructure and cause social problems? Heavy truck traffic related to hydraulic fracturing in North Dakota has caused significant damage to the state`s roads. Drilling and hydraulic fracturing of a single well can require more than 1,000 truck trips. North Dakota will have to spend $7 billion over the next 20 years to maintain local roads, according to a 2012 study. The fracking boom in North Dakota has also led to an increase in traffic accidents and fatalities. Hospitals in the state`s oil boom region are suffering from a debt crisis fueled by the need to treat workers who don`t have health insurance or fixed addresses. However, environmental groups are skeptical of the benefits of hydraulic fracturing and see evidence of a plethora of problems with the process. Environmentalists and residents who live near fracking operations blame, among other things, that two main environmental problems are water use and water pollution. Millions of gallons of water are needed to stimulate a well. In Pennsylvania, heavy rainfall means water is plentiful, and regulations ensure that operators store rainwater during the rainy season for use during the driest months (for example, injecting massive amounts of water into Bradford`s oil fields for secondary oil recovery once well pressure has dropped has flown under the radar of environmentalists for half a century).
Extracting enough water for industrial fracking in arid regions such as the Middle East and western China is a local concern, but not a reason for a global moratorium. 2. Learn how hydraulic fracturing works with a Ted-Ed video. Natural gas from shale is widely touted as clean compared to oil and coal, a « win-win » fuel that can reduce emissions while providing abundant fossil energy in the coming decades until a shift to renewable energy sources occurs. But shale gas is not clean and should not be used as bridge fuel. No. And you don`t have to take our word for it. No fewer than two dozen scientific studies conclude that fracking does not pose a major threat to groundwater. Above all, an important milestone in 2016 in the United States. The Environmental Protection Agency study concluded that « heraulic fracturing operations are unlikely to generate enough pressure to conduct liquids into shallow drinking water areas. » The EPA came to this conclusion even after extending the definition of hydraulic fracturing to a wide range of other petroleum activities, demonstrating the safety of the entire development process.
3. How does fracking pollute our air? Fracking can release dangerous petroleum hydrocarbons, including benzene, toluene and xylene. It can also increase ground-level ozone, a major risk factor for asthma and other respiratory diseases. Pollutants in fracking water and backflow fluid can seep into our air when wastewater is discharged into pits and then evaporates. Air pollution from hydraulic fracturing can contribute to health problems among people living near natural gas drilling sites, according to a study by researchers at the Colorado School of Public Health. 4. How does hydraulic fracturing exacerbate climate change? Fracking often releases large amounts of methane, a very powerful greenhouse gas that traps heat at least 87 times more effectively than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. Drilling for fractured shale gas, for example, can have methane leakage rates of up to 9%. Studies have shown that leakage rates above about 3% would make burning natural gas in a power plant even worse for the climate than burning coal.
Hydraulic fracturing also provides access to vast fossil fuel deposits that were once beyond the reach of drilling. In California, for example, oil companies are interested in using hydraulic fracturing and other dangerously extreme methods of extracting fossil fuels from the Monterey Shale. This geological formation beneath the San Joaquin and Los Angeles basins could contain a large amount of unusually dirty, carbon-intensive oil. Oil fracking in North Dakota already produces about half a million barrels of oil a day. We need to leave 80% of proven fossil fuel reserves in the ground to have a reasonable chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change. We simply cannot afford to use dangerous techniques such as hydraulic fracturing to extract more and more oil and gas. 5. Does fracking cause earthquakes? There are reports from British Columbia and the U.K.
that hydraulic fracturing has caused small earthquakes, so there is some risk of fracking itself. The biggest problem, however, is earthquakes that are triggered when fracking wastewater is disposed of in injection wells. A recent study indicates that underground injection is a key factor in a magnitude 5.7 earthquake outside Prague, Oklahoma, that damaged hundreds of thousands of dollars of local homes. The scientists also concluded that a number of earthquakes in Youngstown, Ohio, were induced by groundwater injection. Read our own March 2014 report on hydraulic fracturing and earthquakes, On Shaky Ground: Fracking, Acidizing, and Increase Earthquake Risk in California. Tens of thousands of shale wells have been drilled in the United States in recent years, making hydraulic fracturing a part of many Americans` daily lives. The widespread shale trade has therefore raised questions about its local impact. The University of Chicago Energy Policy Institute (EPIC) hosted an event on April 17 as part of its Inquiry & Impact series that examined the costs and benefits of hydraulic fracturing based on recent research by scientists at the University of Chicago. The panel consisted of Sue Tierney and Jeff Holmstead, first-time EPIC Policy Fellows, and Michael Greenstone, EPIC Director, and was moderated by Axios reporter Amy. Did fracking return fluids contaminate drinking water? Yes, although the evidence is not as strong as for methane contamination, and none of the data has appeared in the peer-reviewed literature so far (although a number of articles in the New York Times document the problem, for example go.nature.com/58hxot and go.nature.com/58koj3). Contamination can occur as a result of eruptions, surface spills from storage facilities, or improper disposal of fracturing fluids. In Texas, reflux fluids are removed by deep injection into abandoned gas or oil wells.
But such fountains are not available everywhere. In New York and Pennsylvania, some of the waste is treated in municipal wastewater treatment plants that are not designed for this toxic and radioactive waste. As a result, tributaries of the Ohio River have been contaminated with barium, strontium and bromides from municipal wastewater treatment plants that contain fracking waste.5 This contamination apparently resulted in the formation of hazardous brominated hydrocarbons in municipal drinking water supplies, which depended on these surface waters, as pollutants interact with organic matter during the chlorination process. Activists made fracking a visible issue during the 2016 presidential election, demanding that candidates support a ban on fracking.