A Big Fracking Mess
July 23, 2013
You’ve probably heard about fracking, a process used to extract natural gas from rock below the earth’s surface. And you might have wondered why so many people arguing about it.
What is fracking? Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves drilling a well into shale rock formations thousands of feet deep then injecting it with a slurry of water, sand, and chemicals. The high pressure of the injections fracture the surrounding rock and release the natural gas trapped there. One side—the energy companies—say it’s a safe way to obtain cheap domestic supplies of clean energy. The other side—public health advocates and others—says fracking is a dangerous and unsustainable practice that isn’t worth its high environmental costs.
It’s also unsafe for our families and our kids. Here’s why:
- Fracking requires hazardous chemicals. These have been linked to cancer, developmental defects, hormone disruption, and other conditions. As many as 600 toxins are required, including lead, uranium, mercury, radium, methylene chloride, formaldehyde, hydrochloric acid, benzene, toluene, and xylene. Estimates suggest 360 billion gallons of chemicals will be used in America’s current wells. But we really don’t know. Congress exempted fracking from the Safe Drinking Water Act so companies don’t have to disclose the types and amounts of chemicals they use. In fact, according to the film Gasland, fracking is exempt from most federal environmental laws. That’s a problem because 50 to 70 percent of all fracking fluid injected into wells is never recovered.
- Fracking uses too much water. Up to eight million gallons are used to fracture a single well, and 72 trillion gallons will be consumed operating America’s 500,000 active wells.
- Fracking destroys fresh water supplies. Cracked wells and rock movement frequently leak fracking fluid and gases into nearby groundwater supplies. Once polluted these aquifers are difficult if not impossible to restore.
- Fracking pollutes the air. A 2012 Colorado School of Public Health study found that air pollution caused by fracking likely contributes to “acute and chronic health problems.”
- Fracking doesn’t produce clean energy or prevent global warming. Natural gas is neither renewable nor clean. True, it creates (only) 30 percent less carbon dioxide than oil and 45 percent less than coal. But experts believe that any climate help this might provide is cancelled out by the methane that leaks from wells and facilities.
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