Environmentalists and advocacy groups alike have long protested the process of hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, which is a process where natural gas is extracted by injecting a high pressure combination of water, sand, and chemicals deep into the ground. Their prevailing thought is the process of fracking contaminates drinking water in nearby wells along with other adverse environmental impacts. Obviously, the natural gas companies and others that benefit from extracting the natural resource have strongly opposed these environmentalist’s claims. So, I want to look a little deeper into the issue to determine if fracking actually is as bad as environmentalists say it is.
As hydraulic fracturing has revolutionized the US natural gas industry, increasing the country’s output by over 2 million barrels per day, there has been increased attention related to the extraction process. The EPA has openly stated fracking has no “widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water” but 31 scientists with no particular interest in the matter came to a different conclusion. These scientists reviewed the EPA’s findings and determined they were “inconsistent with the observations, data, and levels of uncertainty presented”. This brings up an interesting question: Why would the EPA give misleading information to the public, knowing people could be adversely affected? It is quite simple actually: cheap energy and jobs that the natural gas industry produce overshadow the impacts the process could have on the environment. That claim is highlighted by the shale fields around Foxcreek, Canada which have experienced an increasing number of small earthquakes, a phenomenon that occurs as a result from fracking.
One of the residents that lives in the area, talking about the earthquakes asserted: “If its not a 5.0, its not really much to me”.
The Foxcreek area of Canada depends on the energy sector for jobs, so local residents will bare with the small earthquakes despite the fact they have increased immensely within the region. In fact, since 2003 when the natural gas companies moved in, 160 of these small earthquakes have been reported. This is contrary to the norm because these regions would only experience one to two of the minor earthquakes per year. Although it is normal for fracking to cause minor earthquakes, the potential for them to be exacerbated is real. A possible solution to this growing problem in Foxcreek can be somewhat solved by not drilling in areas that cannot handle the seismic activity. Everyone wins: the local residents get to keep their jobs and the gas companies still can drill; they will just have to do a little more research about the area they are drilling in.
Furthermore, contaminated water is probably the biggest issue when it comes to hydraulic fracturing. Two families in Pennsylvania were recently awarded 4.2 million dollars when a jury decided a natural gas well contaminated the water well that the families used for drinking water. The town where the contamination occurred is in Dimock, which is located above the Marcellus Shale, the center of the fracking boom in the US. The jury decided, Cabot Oil, the company involved in the incident, acted negligently in allowing the contamination. Cabot Oil has been criticized before this most recent event, when regulators said the gas company polluted wells used by 19 homes back in 2009 along with a methane contamination the same year.
In hindsight, more than 30 states partake in fracking and only a small portion of these wells contaminate drinking water.
Rob Jackson, an environmental expert from Stanford University presented some research on fracking and came to the conclusion that it does allow gas to reach drinking water, but it only happens rarely. However, the most troubling way that gas can reach drinking water is through poor fracking infrastructure; only 29% of the wells in the US are fully cemented, according to the EPA. That number is way too low when it comes to protecting someone’s drinking water and that needs to be addressed immediately if fracking is going to continue to be a staple of the US economy. Like i said above: there will be no economy if there is no environment. In the grand scheme of things, contamination is at an extremely low level, but the fracking industry needs to be regulated more to ensure absolutely no contamination occurs. History has shown something can go wrong with fracking, but also everything can be easily prevented.
Contributed by R.A.