What is Fracking and How Does it Impact the Environment?

Introduction

Fracking is a practice that is often brought up in the discussion on climate change, and the environment as a whole, due to its potential to wreak havoc on our planet.

The controversial practice has only been seen in high usage in recent decades, and as global warming continues to march forward, many are looking to the impacts of fracking for answers.

In this article, we’ll be taking a look at what fracking is and how it’s affecting our planet.

What is Fracking? 

In the simplest terms, fracking is a method of collecting oil and gas by drilling holes deep into the Earth’s surface.

The practice of fracking dates back to 1862 when Colonel Edward A. L. Roberts noticed the effects of artillery striking the water-filled canals. Three years later, Roberts would patent his “exploding torpedo,” which would be lowered into a well and detonated to extract oil.

During the 1940s, the “striking torpedo” was left before for the hydraulic method of using high-pressure blasts of liquid.

Hydraulic fracking is still the go-to method of fracking these days. Modern rigs drill down thousands of feet to create wells that reach rocks bearing oil and gas. Fracking fluid, mainly comprised of water and sand, is pumped down rapidly, causing the rock below to crack and emit the desired resource. The fluid is pulled back up along with gas or oil, and the well is filled back up.

Issues in Fracking

Due to hydraulic fracking being a modern development, its research hasn’t always been clear, but this doesn’t mean that current evidence doesn’t show great cause for concern.

Modern fracking practices have the potential to lead to the following:

  • Contaminated groundwater
  • Air pollution
  • Earthquakes

Contaminated Groundwater

There has been a number of reported instances where groundwater has been contaminated due to nearby fracking. When this occurs, harmful chemicals such as methane and benzene can find their way into local water sources.

A study led by Stephen G. Osborn, an environmental researcher at Duke University, found that in Pennsylvania the “average methane level was 17 times higher in private drinking-water wells within one kilometer, or about 3,280 feet, of active drilling sites, compared with those in nondrilling areas.” These increased levels of methane can lead to pipe explosions and other household hazards.

As of today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) doesn’t regulate methane levels in drinking water, meaning local agencies are under no obligation to look out for their citizens.

Additionally, the EPA has detected high concentrations of benzene, xylenes, purgeable hydrocarbons, gasoline, and diesel in groundwater near fracking sites. The effects that these chemicals have on citizens is an increased risk of neurotoxicity and cancer.

Air Pollution

Not only may methane and benzene find their way into local water sources, but they also find their way into the atmosphere where they contribute to an already out-of-hand climate change situation.

The main issue with methane pollution is that methane has 80 times the warming effects of carbon dioxide, making it one of the most harmful gases out there. Benzene is another harmful gas, that if left unchecked, will result in damage to reproductive, immune, and neurologic systems.

Fracking requires lots of diesel and this high reliance on the petroleum results in an increased amount of ground-level ozone which can cause damage to the lungs of humans and nearby animals.

Earthquakes

Since 2009, there has been a notable increase in the number of earthquakes in the central United States. Research from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) found that fracking is mostly to blame for this. This region of the country used to average just 25 annual earthquakes of magnitude 3 or higher, but in recent years this has increased dramatically. In fact, 2015 brought over 1000 of these earthquakes alone in the area.

Many of these areas are not equipped with the resources to manage these many earthquakes. The bodily injuries and property damage resulting from these earthquakes is not something to take lightly.

Conclusion

In a world soon-to-be dominated by climate change, the consequences of fracking are something that must be addressed, both for the short-term and long-term benefit of the planet.

Current action has been taken to mitigate the harmful effects of fracking, but only time will tell how the practice will come to shape the world in the coming decades.

This article was brought to you by The Earth Store, an eCommerce business that sells bamboo toothbrushes and donates a portion of profits toward environmental organizations to help create a safer world for tomorrow. Check out our InstagramFacebook, and Twitter to receive content on climate change and the environment.
The cover photograph of this article was taken from Boston University.

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