img credit: Linda Dong
• Intro - What is fracking, and why does it matter to you?
Fracking, is the common name of the process of extraction of minerals from deep within the earth. This was first tested in 1949. Fracking is done by drilling down and horizontally along shale layers with highly pressurized chemicals. This creates fractures within the shale layer from which natural gas can be extracted at a higher rate than traditional vertical drilling. To this day there are more than 500,000 active natural gas wells in the US. Natural gas produced in the US can heat 15 million homes for one year, and generates 100 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity, comparatively can also fuel 12 million natural gas-fired vehicles in one year (Spellman, 2013).
Many chemicals are combined together to create fracking fluids that go into the fracking process. Some of the chemicals used in fracking are: Arsenic, Hydrogen Sulfide, Mercury, Acetone, Benzene, Toluene. Many of these chemicals are toxic. Fracking bring urban-style air pollution with ozone making, smog producing combustion byproducts of the type linked in adults to cancer and heart diseases, and in children, to lowered IQ, preterm birth, asthma, and stunted lung development (Steingraber, 2013). When a drilling site is confirmed trucks bring in these chemicals, but after the drilling is done only a few trucks take the recovered chemicals away. Which means that a significant amount of chemicals are left behind in surrounding earth.
This process can be done safely, without harming the environment according to many government lawmakers & energy companies. Although hydraulic fracking takes exemptions from several major environmental standards such as Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act & Safe Drinking Act. Even without chemical incidents, there’s been thousands of spillage, well explosions and groundwater contamination. Fracking currently lives outside of federal laws and regulations, and there is no complete inventory of what is being injected and subsequently returned to the surface (Lane, 2013). The United States does have a comprehensive federal water law that ensures the quality of Americans’ drinking water, even though the Energy policy Act of 2005 found that fracking was never regulated by the same standards as the rest of America.
Despite concerns by environmentalists and landowners, it is clear of the economic impact of fracking. Because of it’s high cost was not used until very recently because of the cost of natural gas going up. While oil is a globally priced commodity, the value of natural gas is set by localized market demand; gas from shale is being touted as America’s “clean energy” source and primed as assuring future energy security (Lane, 2013). Although that sounds all good and positive, the reality is not at all lined up with what is being promised by gas companies. Natural gas does have a less carbon intensity than oil or coal, but you need more of it to do the same amount of work as oil or coal. Gas wells also dry up at a much faster rate than other carbon based energy sources. But now thanks to new technology and the low of drilling chemicals fracking has taken a new boom in expansion. This creates thousands of jobs in low poverty areas and even revenue for landowners that sell their mineral rights.
• Ecological & Environmental Impact
There’s a lot of evidence of fracking that is harmful to the environment. The EPA and many governmental regulation services are ignoring the environmental impacts in favor of creating jobs and securing campaign funds. Every major player against regulations for hydraulic fracking are in one way or another backed by gas companies with campaign funds, sponsorship or job promises for their respecting constituents. The development of fracking in expanding natural gas reserves was aided by tax incentives for development of unconventional gas and oil resources that were in the 1980 windfall profits tax bill; fracking development was also assisted by logistical support from the Department of Energy-funded laboratories (Nordhaus, 2012).
When a fracking site is confirmed, approximately 40,000 gallons of toxic chemicals are brought in by hundreds of tankers to be used for fracking. During the process, many of these toxic chemicals escape into surrounding land and drinking water. A single well can be fracked 10 or more times, going from the bottom of the shale to the top. An estimated 50-60% of the fracking fluid is returned to the surface during well completion and subsequent production, bringing with it toxic gasses, liquids, and solid materials that are naturally present in underground gas deposits, and under some circumstances, none of the injection fluid is recovered (Spellman, 2013). Even when only around 50-60% of the fracturing fluid is recovered from the fracking process, much of it is just let to sit out to evaporate or misted to evaporate the chemicals into the atmosphere. The rest stay underground or flows in the surrounding water tables and lands.
Methane gas has be found in 48 times greater concentration than it is acceptable for human consumption in drinking water by the EPA near fracking sites. These contaminated water sources creates problems for not only human, but livestocks as well. Lead, a heavy metal, is a hazardous air pollutant that is particularly harmful to children’s neurological development is also present in fracking fluids; it can also cause health problems in adults, including reproductive problems, high blood pressure, and nerve disorders (Spellman, 2013). Even with thousands of documented cases of water contaminations near fracking sites leading to cancer, tumor, respiratory and neurological damage, nothing is being done to stop the harmful activities.
The human body is much more resilient against these kinds of damage, but it’s unimaginable what this does to other life forms. Plants and grass dies out around fracking sites, but before they do they absorb the toxic materials from the earth and water. These chemicals reside within the plants until they are consumed by secondary consumers. Then they get sick from the toxic chemicals and start to die out. The first signs of a toxic chemical attacking your nervous system is constant headaches, and hair falling out.
• Fracking In Ohio
Fracking is moving fast from west to the east coast of the United Stated. Right now Ohio is in the trajectory of gas companies to develop wells. Not just fracking wells, but Ohio is right now a center for disposing of the toxic chemical residual as well. The economics of fracking is clear. In 2011 Ohio benefited by $2.7 billion from natural gas related revenue, and that figure is estimated to rise to $22 billion by 2015 and create 200,000 new jobs (Graves, 2012). There’s more than a hundred waste water disposal well right here in Ohio. That is toxic waste being brought in from surrounding states, who did not want this waste in their state.
Wells in Ohio has also been linked to earthquakes. Scientists have linked fracking to earthquakes around wells for years. But these links have been cited as conjecture alone, and that there may be some truth to the link between fracking and earthquakes, but that correlation has yet to be proven scientifically (Spellman, 2013)Recently, areas in Youngstown experienced a series of earthquakes that had been linked directly with fracking wells. Even then the gas company didn’t shut their operations down until they were forced to by governmental intervention. Even to this day gas companies see Ohio as a major area for dumping toxic waste water.
• Closing Thoughts
This links directly to what we are learning in our ecology class. It’s absolutely critical that people understand what impacts their choices have on their lands. Looking at the energy industry, especially natural gas and oil industries it’s clear that they don’t care about the land that they pollute. For them it is about making the most amount of profit from the quickest form of energy. It’s not just the land either, but but they are polluting the air, water as well. The EPA is in the pockets of the corporations, while the people have their mineral and health rights taken away from them.
Check out the the awesome interactive website designed by Linda Dong. This shows a very well designed and illustrated way of understanding what fracking is and how it’s done. Site.