11 Facts About Fracking: Does it Really Cause Water Contamination?
Have you ever heard of fracking?
Do you think the word frack sounds a little bit silly or laughable?
Did you know fracking is a highly controversial topic these days?
Whether you’ve ever heard of fracking before, in this article, you’ll be educated on the top 11 most-asked questions about the fracking industry, and you’ll learn a lot about water contamination due to fracking as well. When it comes to fracking water contamination is one of the big issues, but there is a lot more to be discussed, and you can find out all that and more in the FAQ below.
You’ll be introduced to new ideas and concepts, and you’ll find out what makes this such a hot-button topic among environmentalists and those in the coal and natural gas industries. You’ll find out how likely it is to experience water contamination from fracking, and you’ll have all of your questions answered.
By the time you’ve finished reading this article, you’ll understand much more about fracking and the potential problems that might arise from it. You’ll be better able to enter into discussions and debates about the matter, and you might even find a new cause to reach out and get involved with in your area, too.
Read on to learn about fracking and water contamination, as well as more facts about this controversy.
1. What is Fracking?
Fracking has been around since the 40s, but it only recently became popular in the early 2000s and onward. The term is actually a shortened version of the phrase “hydraulic fracturing,” which basically means using liquid to explode rocks from the inside out. This is a popular way to find oil, coal, and natural gas in the United States, and many believe it’s a good way to break the habit of relying on other countries for these substances as well. Although the rock may “explode” when fracking occurs, this is rarely visible on the surface. Much of the explosion happens below ground.
Basically, when fracking takes place, a liquid is pumped into cracks in the natural rock and used to build up pressure inside that rock. As the pressure builds, the rock explodes, and natural gas is coaxed to the surface. It’s often considered to be a much less costly method of getting to this gas than many other solutions out there. Shale, the type of rock that usually contains natural gas, is very hard to work with and can be almost impossible to break using other means.
2. How Does Fracking Work?
First, pump lines are placed into shale rock where natural gas can be found. These are used to pump about four million gallons of liquid into the rock, depending on the location, and can be placed as deep as ten thousand feet below the surface of the earth. The pump lines can move liquid through the rock at thousands of gallons a minute, making fracking a surprisingly quick job, in spite of how complicated it might sound. As the liquid is moved deeper into the earth, it forces gas to move to the surface.
Fracking is performed horizontally, which actually makes it easier to find natural gas than vertical drilling. Because of this, the pumps used in fracking are L-shaped, so that they can be inserted to the proper depth and then extend horizontally to complete the process. This allows more gas pockets to be reached without expending more energy or using more chemicals in the process. Although fracking may sound like a simple process, it can cause a lot of potential long-term damage to the rock in which it is performed.
3. What Ingredients are Used in Fracking?
Although many sources might tell you that fracking is done with water pumped into the shale rock, this isn’t entirely accurate. Water is certainly one of the ingredients needed for fracking, and it’s needed in huge quantities. Chemically treated wastewater is often used for this purpose, but sometimes water is purchased from city water companies or from agricultural facilities.
One of the other important ingredients in a fracking liquid is sand. The particles of sand keep the cracks in the rock open and allow the gas to escape as the rocks are being expanded and exploded beneath the surface. Chemical additives are also used in the fracking liquid in order to thicken the mixture, dissolve minerals below ground, and more. These chemicals are often very dangerous, and they are one of the leading causes of issues surrounding the fracking industry.
4. What are the Benefits of Fracking?
It’s true that fracking can help cut down on the United States’ need to rely on foreign sources of natural gas. It’s also true that fracking is a less costly method of getting to the natural gas beneath the surface of our planet. And fracking also makes gas prices a little cheaper for much of the country, as well. These are some of the ways in which fracking can actually help the economy as well as the environment.
Relying on natural gas instead of oil or coal is a little bit better for the environment overall, as well. It burns cleaner than these two other sources of fuel, and it reduces the risk of acid rain and greenhouse gasses. Therefore, although there are some risks associated with fracking, there are plenty of benefits that make it a controversial topic as well. Without these benefits, there would be no real argument for fracking.
5. What are the Risks of Fracking?
One of the biggest risks of fracking is the potential for the chemicals used in the fracking solution to leach into groundwater and cause contamination of surface water as well. These chemicals can also spill into water supplies when storage and shipment accidents happen, and in some instances, they have even caused serious drinking water pollution. During the process of fracking, methane gas can escape as well and cause potential explosions.
Radioactive elements are often left underground after fracking takes place. They are disposed of by injecting them into wells deep within the earth, but this is a dangerous action too. There is not really a safe way to dispose of the waste left behind by fracking. There is also not a safe way to dispose of excess chemicals used in the fracking process, and so many of them end up in landfills or simply contaminating groundwater as they sit in leaky storage facilities. Unfortunately, there are a good number of health risks associated with drinking water near fracking sites or even living in areas where fracking takes place.
6. How Safe is Fracking for the Environment?
Fracking, overall, isn’t very safe for the environment. Although there are potential benefits of fracking, which were listed in an above answer, the risks are much more extreme. Diesel fuel is usually required to operate the heavy machinery that is used to remove natural gas through fracking, and large amounts of chemicals must be present in the fracking liquid in order for it to be effective.
It’s also been suggested—and, in some places, proven—that air pollution is much higher in areas near fracking sites. This can cause health problems for individuals living nearby, and can negatively impact the surrounding environment as well. When fracking takes place, methane gasses can often escape, which cancels out any positive effects of using natural gas instead of other types of fuels that might burn greenhouses gasses. All in all, there are several different reasons why fracking is unsafe for the environment. It can cause problems for the trees, water, wildlife, and humans in areas near fracking sites.
7. Why is Fracking Controversial?
The controversy behind fracking mostly revolves around whether or not its benefits outweigh its risks. Unfortunately, as with many issues in the United States today, politics often have something to do with any argument that arises over the fracking industry. However, removing politics as well as possible from the situation, there are many people on both sides of the fracking coin who believe their points are valid.
Some believe that access to natural gas and the ability to fuel the country without having to rely on expensive and sometimes dangerous relations with other countries is a benefit that far outweighs any environmental risk factors associated with fracking. However, others believe that we should be more concerned with the environment in our country as well as the impact our actions have on the whole planet.
8. How Can Fracking Contaminate Water?
In 2011, a study performed by the EPA found that chemicals used in fracking procedures had been found in much higher quantities than normal in water in the town of Pavillion, Wyoming. Dangerous levels of benzene were found in the water supply in this town, despite actions that had been taken to prevent it from seeping into the water from nearby fracking sites. This affected both the taste and the smell of the water in this town, but nothing was done to clean up the water despite resident complaints. The fracking in the area continued, and the water has not been treated.
This is just one example of the effects fracking is having on drinking water around the United States. While it is true that some areas aren’t experiencing contamination of water supplies from fracking, there is still a very high cause for concern among residents of areas where fracking is prominent. Aside from pollution from regular fracking, there are also plenty of opportunities for accidents to take place and lead to chemical leaks and spills in and around fracking sites and transportation routes as well. Blowouts can occur and cause water to easily enter rivers that supply large areas of residents with potable water. This is a potential risk factor that should not be overlooked when discussing fracking.
9. Can Fracking Lead to Earthquakes?
Technically, it isn’t fracking that causes earthquakes, but the process of disposing of waste water after fracking that can be blamed for the increase of earthquakes in recent years. When wastewater needs to be disposed of, it is pumped into deep wells in the surface of the earth. This causes pressure to build deep within the earth, and it can lead to triggering fault lines depending on the location of the fracking site. There have even been reports of earthquakes coinciding with waste water disposal several miles away from the injection wells, so this is a widespread problem that seems to be affecting much of the country.
Although the earthquakes that happen as a result of fracking and wastewater disposal are often too small to be felt—or at least too small to be hazardous—they still pose a very valid concern for people who live in areas affected by fracking. There are parts of the Midwestern United States that have reported significant earthquakes since the onset of fracking, and some of these are not areas in which earthquakes used to take place very often.
10. What Alternatives Exist to Fracking?
There are some alternatives to fracking that might still be able to produce the same results with less of an environmental and human safety impact. As the potential issues related to fracking become more and more apparent and we become more and more aware of environmentally friendly procedures, alternative options are discovered that can make a big difference in the fracking industry. Although most fracking companies have yet to adopt these methods, there are pushes being made to encourage them all the time.
Water-free fracking is one such alternative. This option uses a gel base instead of water, which means cutting back over-use of water supplies right away. The gel can simply merge into the ground after use and doesn’t need to be disposed of the same way wastewater does. Using brine instead of water treated with chemicals can also be a safer alternative to traditional fracking methods. Using this method, very saline water performs the same tasks as chemically treated water does in traditional fracking. One more alternative to environmentally dangerous fracking practices is to use solar-powered and natural gas powered machinery, engines, and storage facilities to reduce the use of diesel in all fracking procedures.
11. Is It Worth It to Fight Fracking?
After learning all this about fracking, you might be wondering if there’s anything you can do to push back against the onset of this dangerous practice. However, you might feel as though there’s nothing you can really do about it since it already seems to be such a widespread operation that isn’t going anywhere despite plenty of protest against it already. Keep in mind, though, that countries around the world have already banned the practice completely, and that some cities within the United States have joined this movement to get away from fracking too.
You might feel as though industries that have control of most of the money in the country are set on keeping fracking going for as long as possible. But if you feel as though fighting against fracking is a cause you can get behind, there are plenty of large-scale and local groups and organizations dedicated to speaking out against the fracking industry. Find a local organization or get out there and speak for yourself if there isn’t one available. Although a major change in the fracking industry may be a long way off, it won’t ever happen at all if people stop being willing to fight for the safety of their environment and their drinking water.
There is a lot to learn about the world of fracking, and this FAQ has really only just scratched the surface. There are plenty of scientific research articles as well as reports and studies that have been published on the subject, so don’t be afraid to reach out and read more if you’re interested in finding out about the potential health and environmental impacts of fracking in your area.
Remember, too, that you have options when you live in an area affected by fracking. You can speak out against your local government and urge them to do something about it—don’t forget that Philadelphia has already completely banned the practice, even though Pennsylvania is full of shale and natural gas deposits. Sometimes, all it takes is one person making a stand to start a wave of change in any given community. If you’re concerned about the cleanliness of your drinking water, the potential for earthquakes, or any number of other problems that could be associated with fracking, talk to the right people and see about getting something done.
Now that you know more about the subject, you are better qualified to make your own decisions on how you feel about it. You’ve become more educated on the topic of fracking, and you can choose where you want to stand on the matter. Pick a side and don’t be afraid to argue for what you believe in.