Fracking is the fossil fuel industry’s latest false solution to our energy challenge. It’s more expensive, more polluting, and more dangerous than clean, renewable energy. So why are we pursuing fracking in the first place?
© Les Stone / Greenpeace
Since 2005, more than 100,000 oil and gas wells have been drilled and fracked in the United States.
Fracking has been pursued by countries like Canada, India, the U.K., and China, and in numerous U.S. states.
What Is Fracking?
Fracking is short for hydraulic fracturing. It’s an industrial process that breaks apart rock formations deep underground to extract fossil fuels like oil and methane gas. Because this oil and gas is found in rock formations called shale, these fuels are usually called shale oil or shale gas.
Hydraulic fracturing is a process done after a well has been drilled but before oil and gas can be brought from the well. The term fracking has come to describe the entire process of creating a fracked well, from drilling the initial hole through the hydraulic fracturing stage and the production of fossil fuels.
While fossil fuel companies claim fracking has been practiced safely for decades, we actually know very little about its long-term environmental impacts. Changes in technology and economics have allowed fossil fuel companies to frack on a much larger scale than has ever been done before, making today’s fracking a much different process than in years past. Behind the scenes, these same companies have warned their investors that fracking carries the risk of chemical leaks, spills, explosions and other environmental damage, not to mention serious injury to workers.
New technology is making fracking more dangerous, more profitable, and more attractive to fossil companies, but no less damaging to the environment and human health.
The Dangers of Fracking
Scientists continue to study the impacts of fracking. What they’ve already found is pretty alarming.
Water Use & Pollution
Fracking is a water-intensive process. In water-scarce Western states like Texas and Colorado, more than 3.6 million gallons of water are used every time a well is fracked, which can happen multiple times throughout the life of a well.
The process involves injecting a huge quantity of fresh water mixed with toxic chemicals—called fracking fluids—deep into the ground. Fossil fuels companies routinely claim that these fracking fluids are harmless because they’re roughly 2 percent chemical and 98 percent. But 2 percent of the billions of gallons of fracking fluid created by drillers every year equals hundreds of tons of toxic chemicals, many of which are kept secret by the industry.
Even worse, the oil and gas industry has no idea what to do with the massive amount of contaminated water they are creating. Fracking fluids and waste have made their way into our drinking water and aquifers. Fracking has already been linked to drinking water contamination in Pennsylvania, Colorado, Ohio, Wyoming, New York, and West Virginia.
An EPA draft report released in 2015 found more than 150 instances of groundwater contamination due to shale drilling and fracking.
Homeowners in some affected areas even report being able to light the water coming out of their kitchen sinks on fire due to gas contamination:
While the fossil fuel industry denies it, the EPA has acknowledged the connection between fracking and increased earthquakes since 1990.
Scientists have made firm links between earthquakes in Colorado, Oklahoma, Ohio and Arkansas in the past few years.
Oklahoma, for example, averaged 21 earthquakes per year above a 3.0 magnitude between 1967 and 2000. Since 2010 and the beginning of the fracking boom, the state has averaged more than 300 earthquakes above 3.0 magnitude every year.
Most of these earthquakes are caused by underground injection wells, which are used to dispose of contaminated water created by the fracking process. These wells do not produce the gas and oil. However, the shale industry creates so much contaminated wastewater—and has so few options for disposing of it—that injection wells have become a critical part of shale drilling and fracking.
Climate & Air Quality
Because shale drilling and fracking is understood so poorly and regulated so little, we don’t know exactly how much air pollution is leaking from fracking wells across the country. States like Colorado have seen tremendous spikes in air pollution due to fracking wells.
And one of the most troubling aspects of shale drilling and fracking is its impact on the climate.
Methane gas—the main component of natural gas—is a less common but more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. In fact, it’s 85 to 105 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at disrupting the climate over a 20 year period.
There is still no consensus as to how much methane is leaking into the air due to shale drilling and fracking, but some studies suggest it could be worse than burning coal for the climate.
Let’s Ditch Fracking for Clean Energy
Fracking is diverting money and attention from the real long-term solutions we need for a sustainable energy system, while adding to greenhouse gas pollution and environmental degradation.
Join us in telling government and big business to stop pursuing this false solution and start focusing on the energy future we want, one based on clean and renewable energy.