Health and environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing
Hydraulic fracturing (popularly known as fracking) is a method of
extracting oil and natural gas by fracturing rock layers. The energy generated due to injection of a highly pressurized fracking fluid creates new channels in the rock.
The natural gas industry claims that hydraulic fracturing is safe and efficient. Thomas J. Pyle claims that hydraulic fracturing has been a widely deployed as safe extraction technique dating back to 1949.
Thomas J. Pyle is the president of the Institute of Energy Research, a pro-industry non-profit organization. No doubt hydraulic fracturing is efficient. It enables extraction of hydrocarbons from places which would be impossible to access without this technique.
However the claim that hydraulic fracturing is safe is safe is highly questionable. It has a huge negative impact on human health and the environment.
Hydraulic fracturing requires large amounts of water. It affects water supplies to nearby areas. Groundwater methane contamination is a major area of concern. Some chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing are known carcinogens.
According to a 2011 US House of Representatives investigative report, out of 2,500 hydraulic fracturing products, more than 650 contained chemicals that were known or possible carcinogens.
Equipment failure led to increase in toxic chemical levels in the wells of at least a dozen families in Connoquenessing Township in Bradford County in the year 2010. Representatives of the Rex Energy acknowledged that two of the drilling wells had casing problems. Chloromethane, iron, ammonia, arsenic, methane, toluene, t-butyl alcohol and manganese were some chemicals that were detected in the well water.
Due to equipment failure, nearly 10,000 gallons of waste water contaminated agriculture field and a stream that flows into the Susquehanna River in April 2011. This happened near Towanda in the state of Pennsylvania. Seven families had to be evacuated. Chesapeake Energy was fined $900,000 by the DEP.
Another equipment failure in January 2012 at a drill site in Susquehanna County resulted in a spill of thousands of gallons of fluid for nearly half an hour. According to the DEP, this may have caused significant pollution. Carrizo Oil and Gas was asked to cease drilling at all its 67 wells till the cause of the problem and its solution were identified.
Hydraulic fracturing affects the quality of air negatively. Air emissions from hydraulic fracturing are related to methane leaks from the wells. Equipment used for hydraulic fracturing (like drilling rigs, pumps and compressors) are powered by either diesel or natural gas. Emissions from these equipments pollute the atmosphere.
Fluids used for hydraulic fracturing may release radioactive chemicals from the deposits. Chances are that these chemicals reflow to the surface by the flowback. New York Times reported that some EPA reports regarding this was never made public in the state of Pennsylvania.
Hydraulic fracturing causes micro earthquakes. A report in the UK and another conducted by the Unites States Geological Survey (USGS) have concluded that earthquakes induced by hydraulic fracturing have been reported at some locations.
Hydraulic fracturing impacts the wildlife by causing loss of habitat, increasing mortality and altering microclimates. It may also lead to loss of genetic diversity, species isolation and an increase of invasive species.
Advancement in technology should be encouraged in the energy industry. However, natural gas companies should not be allowed to use techniques that harm the environment. Countries all over the world should introduce appropriate legislation in this regard.