There’s been a lot of talk about “fracking”, or hydraulic fracturing, in the media lately, and many may be wondering what it is. Here is a simple overview of what fracking is, and why it’s bad for our health and our planet, and why the oil companies are still promoting it as safe.
In the case of modern oil and natural gas extraction, fracking refers to pumping pressurized water, sand, and chemicals into the ground to increase the amount of fuels which can be removed. While Big US Oil companies like Exxon call fracking safe, as it increases the amount of oil which can be drawn from a well, scientific evidence shows the drilling practice puts groundwater in surrounding regions at serious risk of contamination with dangerous – and flammable – chemicals like benzene.
The most famous case of fracking causing contaminated drinking water is in Sublette, Wyoming, where a drinking water study showed a benzene concentration 1,500 times what is safe for normal human consumption, and is believed to be a cause of aplastic anemia and leukemia.
For a quick explanation of how fracking works in an easy to understand animated song, watch this video:
Why fracking is bad for the environment
There are two main reasons why fracking is bad for the environment:
- Causing unnecessary earthquakesInjecting fluid into faults or fractures messes with the natural rhythm of the ground, and added pressure from drilling is believed to create seismic events. One example of this is a series of Texas earthquakeswhich began once natural gas drilling and fracking was introduced to the region.
- Contributing to global warmingResearch from Cornell University shows that the gas produced from fracking is as bad a contributor to a warming climate than coal, and may in fact be far worse.
What’s being done about it
Currently, the EPA’s Science Advisory Board is reviewing the Hydraulic Fracturing Study Plan, which specifically intends to investigates claims made about the water contamination caused by fracking. Unfortunately, the Science Advisory Board does not plan to release its findings to the public until the end of 2012, and there is no mention in their Study Plan of investigating the environmental issues associated with hydraulic fracturing.