Hydraulic Fracturing At The Expense Of Our Water Supply

1556 words - 7 pages

Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, is a technique for obtaining oil and gas from non-porous shale rock deep below the earth’s surface (Crawford). The process, which dates back to the 1940s, involves injecting large quantities of water infused with a mixture of chemicals and sand into the ground, which serves to fracture the rock that harbors valuable deposits of natural gas (“Fracking”). In recent years, the practice has intensified across the country enabling the U.S. to increase its gas production from 19 million cubic feet in 2005 to upwards of 25 million cubic feet in 2012 (Crawford). However, there is a conflict that exists between the need to harvest this valuable resource reducing ...view middle of the document...

The intense pressure of the water results in the fracturing of the surrounding dense rock. The large quantity of water injected with high pressure is needed to fracture horizontally. Sand is added to the water to “prop open the fractures” to allow continued flow of gas into the well (Crawford). As much as 2 to 9 million gallons of water can be used in single horizontal fracturing operation with repeated “fracking” at a single location (“Fracking”). The shear volume of water required for the hydraulic fracturing process appears to contradict our need to conserve water, particularly in areas of the country where water availability is becoming an issue due to persistent drought.
While the volume of water used in the “fracking” causes concern, the larger issue centers on the chemicals used in the process. The water that is injected into the well and horizontal shafts is treated with a mixture of chemicals that are meant to make the water “slick” so that it moves through the drilled openings more easily. Dr. Robert B. Jackson, a professor in the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University, explains in a podcast for NPR that many of the chemicals used are known to have risks to human health even when exposure is minimal (Ahearn). Many of the chemicals used are known to be carcinogenic or toxic to animals and humans (Craven). It can be argued that these chemicals will not come in contact with watersheds that hold our drinking water supplies, however the water that is injected into the wells and infused with harmful chemicals eventually comes back to the surface as wastewater that must be contained and often stored or transported to another location for disposal. The risks associated with transportation are obvious in that accidents can and do happen. With surface storage, the likelihood of leakage is also very real. John Manuel, in an article published in Environmental Health Perspectives explains that wastewater, “back-flow”, is often stored in “pits which may or may not be lined depending on state regulations. This wastewater fluid is either of by re-injected for disposal in the well or transported to municipal water treatment facilities.
In addition to accidental contact with wastewater, there is possible evidence of drinking water well contamination in residential areas with proximity to “fracking” sites. Manuel again cites possible ground water contamination wherein methane was found in higher than acceptable limits in residential wells near drilling sites. Manuel explains that it is difficult to connect the contamination to the drilling activities as it could come from many other sources (Manuel, John 2010). However, the real issue is the lack of significant study done to determine the actual cause of these proximal contaminations and the cumulative effect of tainted water sources. Its unfortunate to note that the Safe Drinking Water Act established in 2005 allowed an exception for “fracking” based on a report by the Environmental...

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