Hydraulic fracturing is a well-stimulation technique in which a rock is fractured by a hydraulically pressurized liquid that consists of water, sand and chemicals. This fluid is injected into the ground, under enormous pressure, to make cracks in deep-rock formations to make natural gas, petroleum and brine flow more freely.
In the past, factories simply drilled straight down into the gas reservoirs, which harbored liquid petroleum, but due to the large amount of gas and petroleum we use, these reservoirs are low on gas which is why fracking has recently become necessary. Fracking allows the U.S. to maximize our domestic resources and also get the most gas from each source.
Although fracking can be beneficial to local economies, the practice has several pitfalls. Fracking is an expensive process; the price of fracking each well is approximately $7.6 million. Also, the amount of gas that can be obtained from each well is uncertain, which means millions of dollars could be spent drilling a well with little to no return. Additionally, the amount of sand used for fracking a single well can vary from 2.5 million pounds to 7 million pounds. A large number of trucks have to be used to transport the sand, and the vehicles also release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. This sand is later inserted into the cracks, that the fracking fluid creates, to prevent the cracks from closing too quickly. Moreover each well does not stay open for a long time, due to the rocks reforming, so it is also difficult to obtain all the gas from the wells without refracking. Although fracking has fast and upfront profits, there might be long-term consequences and the process in the long run may not actually benefit us economically.
The process of fracking can have significant long term consequences including the contamination of soil, water and air. These contaminants are known to cause significant health problems. Chemicals such as methanol, BTEX compounds, diesel fuel, lead, hydrogen fluoride, naphthalene, sulfuric acid, crystalline silica, formaldehyde (along with sixty other harmful chemicals) are used in the fracking fluid. 75% of the chemicals used in fracking can affect one’s skin, eyes and organs. 40-50% of these chemicals could affect your brain and nervous system if consumed. Over 250 billion litres of water have been contaminated with these chemicals due to fracking.
While fracking companies claim that they recover the fracking fluids, only 30-50% of fracking fluid is actually recovered; the rest just submerges into soil or flows into water sources. When these chemicals flow into the soil, all crops and animals in farm areas are affected. Later on, people eat those animals and plants. When these chemicals flow into our water sources people drink the contaminated water; fracking water cannot be cleaned through the United States’ water treatment plans. The contaminated water is even evaporated into the air.
The IEA, International Energy Agency, reports. “Even if these chemicals can be dealt with, wastewater remains a challenge. The water that flows back to the surface is contaminated not only with the chemicals originally mixed in at the surface, but also with chemicals, heavy metals, and, in some cases, naturally occurring radioactive materials from deep underground.”
In addition to the risk of the contamination of resources, fracking is also believed to trigger earthquakes. Although it isn’t proven that fracking can cause earthquakes, back in January a series of 77 earthquakes in Ohio, including one strong enough to be felt by humans, was caused by fracking according to scientists from the University of Miami. This is a major concern for cities that lie on fault lines in states that have a large amount of fracking. Many fracking companies refuse to stop fracking since at this moment as researchers aren’t completely sure if fracking can cause earthquakes.
In December, 2014, Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York announced that hydraulic fracturing would be banned in New York State. Fracking has been banned in over one hundred different cities across the United States. The majority of fracking in the United States occurs in Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia, Wyoming, Colorado and Massachusetts. Although fracking is banned in New York, fracking companies have not been greatly impacted because New York’s available frackable reserves are small compared to other states’ like Pennsylvania’s and West Virginia’s reserves. Terry Engelder, a well known researcher from Pennsylvania State University who has studied the Appalachian shales for decades, reports, “ Even if the [New York] ban were lifted right now, I doubt you’d see very much activity, the industry has committed so much capital in other states that they want to see that those investments are made good first.”
Currently the United States is extremely dependent on hydraulic fracking and hasn’t focused on alternatives. Companies could switch to a new fracking fluid which is said to be easier on the rocks and prevents many cracks. However, no large scale tests have been run with this new fluid yet so the results are still unknown. An increase of renewable energy usage could also offset the impacts of fracking. Many countries, including, Portugal, Australia, and Britain use electric power, wind power, and solar energy. At the moment the United States hasn’t come to a consensus on an alternative to fracking.