What you need to know about fracking

by Jesse Coleman

August 26, 2013

Hydraulic Fracturing Protest

With a recent study documenting public health impacts from fracking in Pennsylvaniaand revelations about fracking’s impact on our national parks, the topic is certainly bubbling into a national conversation. Here is everything you need to know about fracking from its impact on climate change to an increase in earthquakes.

Fracking uses and contaminates a huge amount of water

In order to frack, two to ten million gallons of water are laced with cancer causing chemicals and injected deep underground. Each well can be fracked multiple times, meaning each fracking well can purposefully contaminate hundreds of millions of gallons of fresh water as part of normal operations. Frackings thirst is so great that it has literally sucked towns in Texas dry.

The contaminated water used in fracking can also leak or spill, polluting underground aquifers and other waterways.Water contaminated by fracking hasspilled into waterways, beendumped into streamsand rivers, and leaked underground contaminating underground aquifers.

An example of fracked water in Pennsylvania.

An example of fracked water in Pennsylvania.

Frackers drill a lot of wells

The oil and gas industry drilled and fracked approximately 35,000 wells in 2011.These wells can be as close as 600 feet to each other.

In New Mexico, there are up to 30 wells per square mile.

Skytruth photo of fracking wells in western U.S.

Fracked wells leak

Fracked wells leak volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like methane into the atmosphere. These harmful gasses have cause health effects in people and animals living near fracked wells. In Colorado, studies have found that people living within a half mile of fracked wells were exposed to pollution levels five times above the federal hazard limit.

In Utah, researchers found that fracking wells were leaking an astonishing 60 tons of methane per hour.

Fracked gas is really bad for the climate

Fracked gas is made primarily of methane, a potent greenhouse gas 105 X more powerful than carbon dioxide. Scientists say that relying on fracked gas as an energy source may be worse for the climate than burning coal.

Elektrownia Patnw Coal Fired Power Station

The consequences of fracking have not been fully studied

The high volume hydraulic fracturing done today is a new and under-studied technology. Comprehensive studies on the effects of fracking to our water supplies have been continuously delayed, and EPA recently announced it wont release its final report until 2016. Furthermore, questions about how much methane gas wells leak, as well as how far the fractures go underground, are still being debated.

Fracking causes earthquakes

One of the biggest challenges frackers face is what to do with the millions of gallons of contaminated water generated by fracking.One of the most widely used methods of disposal is locking the water back underground in shallow disposal wells. These wells have been linked to earthquakes all over the country.

Investment in fracking hurts renewables

While gas is cheap, utilities are investing heavily in gas fired power plants. This is squeezing out renewable energy projects, as limited investment capital is used on building new fossil gas plants, rather than large scale solar arrays or other truly renewable projects. This has long term repercussions, because we will be stuck with using gas for energy for years into the future once the infrastructure is in place

Dafeng Power Station in China

Fracking is spreading to other countries

Fracking is already being exported abroad, and communities in other countries are banding together to oppose it. In the Karoo, an arid land in South Africa, Shells plan to begin fracking was opposed by locals who worried about competing with the frackers for water. Last week however, South Africas deputy president announced that fracking would be allowed.

In Britain, plans to frack were met by a protest camp, which shut down a test fracking well. As in the U.S., the communities around the fracking area opposed drilling, but were forced to action when their government ignored their demands to halt the drilling.

Read more about fracking and its national impact.

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