Fracking. A term that has floated around every four years during presidential debates on climate and still remains misunderstood by many. To start, it is a drilling technique used to extract natural gas and oil from shale rock and has leaked millions of tons of methane, which has a warming power 80 times worse than carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere. Hydraulic fracking accelerates climate change and is a major contributor to greenhouse gasses.
The process works by first drilling a hole into shale rock and injecting water, sand, and chemicals at a high pressure deep into the earth’s surface, which causes cracks to form in the rock formations. The natural gas released from these fractures is then pumped through a pipe that flows up to the surface to be collected. It is a controversial process due to its negative impacts on the water and air quality of the surrounding areas. So, what are some of these consequences?
Fracking has the potential to cause groundwater pollution if done incorrectly. The process requires drilling more than a mile below the earth’s surface, but in the case that the drill hole goes right through aquifers, harmful chemicals may seep out. Additionally, if the water containing chemicals used for fracking comes back up to the surface, it may contain heavy metals and other radioactive substances. Over the past 11 years, scientists have found a small increase in the salt compounds barium, chloride, and strontium in fracked watersheds. However, keeping track of fracking’s impact on surface water proves to be difficult since public data about the quantity of such harmful substances is not readily available, and companies do not always disclose the chemicals in the fluids they use for the process.
The process is also a public health concern for residents in surrounding areas. The abundance of toxic substances create heightened risks for asthma, leukemia, and heart conditions. Furthermore, endocrine-disrupting chemicals at fracking sites may hurt fetus development and cause birth defects. The drilling also generates noise with its equipment, disturbing sleep and raising blood pressure in those living nearby. Noise pollution is just as important of an issue, considering that it can lead to diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic conditions.
The air pollution caused by fracking is extremely worrisome. During the fracking process, air pollutants are released through the entire process, from the transport of materials to waste disposal. A wide variety of chemicals are released during fracking, including benzene, toluene, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and metals used in fuel combustion. In a study conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which monitored gas wells in Weld County, Colorado, it was found that the gas wells were equal to the amount of carbon emissions from approximately one to three million cars.
Mediation and regulations are crucial to make fracking more sustainable. One solution is to use waterless fracking systems since normal systems typically use excessive amounts of water. Alternative systems are able to receive the same results while pumping liquids at a lower rate. Replacing the diesel-powered equipment also decreases the environmental impacts by eliminating the greenhouse gasses produced. Using natural gas or solar panels are other sustainable options as well. Moreover, reusing wastewater created by fracking is a clean way to prevent water pollution as the wastewater is traditionally transported to underground storage facilities.
Fracking is most likely not going to disappear in the near future, which is why it is crucial to minimize the risks as much as possible. In this current age, it may be difficult to run an economy without some unsustainable practices. Still, giving up on possibilities of implementing renewable energy will only increase the distance between humans and a healthy relationship with fuel and the environment. Using methods, such as fracking in moderation, will help people transition to a new mindset that prioritizes a healthy climate and population above all.