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What is the Environmental Impact of Fracking?

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking as it is more commonly known, involves complex labor and industry-intensive operation. A toxic potion consisting of millions of liters of water, sand, and a range of chemicals is carcinogenic is pumped into the ground at high pressure.

This forces fissures within the bedrock to fracture, releasing natural gas deposits held within to be released. The gas then escapes from high pressure to low pressure (drilled wells), where it is collected. And there are environmental consequences of fracking.

While this initially seems like a straightforward operation that may answer our energy woes, it is not nearly that simple.

How does hydraulic fracturing work?

Aerial photo of hydraulic fracturing

To find significant amounts of natural gas and oil, fracking is a drilling technique that blasts liquid deep beneath the earth’s surface to create fractures in sedimentary rock. This method begins with the drilling of a long vertical or straight well with depths of 1000 meters from the ground.

The casing is lowered into the well, and a cement-filled space known as a packer or sleeve is inserted between the rock and the casing. Fracking fluid is then injected at a high pressure to form new fractures or mend existing ones in the surrounding rock.

The oils or gases rise to the surface for collection, processing, and transportation while contaminated water is then drained into holding ponds or injected deep underground to minimize environmental effects.

Although the environmental advantages of fracking are many, it has some negative environmental consequences as well. The mixing of water with chemicals creates toxic wastewater that needs proper disposal. Fracking fluid wastes include carcinogenic chemicals such as benzene, which can

However, it has a number of disadvantages that far outweigh the benefits. The most serious of these is its effect on critical water resources, such as snowpack and aquifers, without which we could not survive.

The toxic chemicals used in fracking operations vary between energy exploration companies and are typically not disclosed (which is in itself worrisome) but have been known to include diesel, which is in fact an illegal additive in fracking fluids in terms of the Safe Drinking Water Act in the US.

These chemicals, together with naturally occurring heavy metals and toxins, including lead, arsenic, mercury, barium, benzene, chromium, strontium, and radium, can leach or be forced out of the ground to contaminate groundwater sources, rivers, as well as private drinking water wells.

Toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are also released into the atmosphere, posing a health risk to people who reside near fracking operations.

5 Key Environmental Consequences of Hydraulic Fracturing You Need to Know

Stray Gases

Closeup shot of stove top.

Furthermore, it is not uncommon for natural gas to escape into private drinking wells, where it not only poses a threat of contamination but other safety concerns too. In oil and gas operations that are doing hydraulic fracturing poses a much more significant risk.

Methane gas has no odor, so it is not readily detectable. Consequently, if allowed to accumulate in a confined, unventilated area, it poses a real danger of causing an explosion or asphyxiating anyone exposed to it – both can be deadly.

These by-products may also be released into the atmosphere. Because methane is more than 20 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, any claims that natural gas is a cleaner option than fossil fuels are untrue.

Recent surveys conducted in the US have indicated that methane concentrations in drinking water wells situated within a kilometer of fracking sites were six times higher than normal.

At the same time, ethane levels were up to 23 times higher, with propane gas being found in some wells.

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Squandering Water Resources

Wooden Pipe of Fresh Natural Spring Water

Hazards aside, there is also the issue of squandering limited water resources. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that anywhere between 2-5 million gallons of water extract shale gas from each horizontal well drilled.

This freshwater is typically extracted from local aquifers or surface water sources, such as local rivers.

Depending on the size of the operation and the number of wells drilled, this can effectively amount to billions of gallons of water extracted from natural water sources to support fracking operations.

Extracting water from rivers impacts the water flow rate and can severely alter freshwater riverine ecosystems, both locally and downstream, impacting farmers and residents alike.

There may also be economic consequences due to losses incurred due to lost recreational and tourism potential of impacted rivers and dams or agricultural land becoming less productive.

The worst-case scenario is when the wells run dry – a situation currently occurring in Texas due to hydraulic fracturing.

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Contaminated Waste

Water from the sewer into the river

The billions of gallons of toxic hydraulic fracturing fluids pumped into the ground to force out the gas are recovered for ‘safe’ disposal. This contaminated sludge has to be deposited somewhere – it doesn’t simply disappear.

While energy companies are compelled to treat their fracking waste responsibly, environmental organizations and concerned residents fear that.

In most cases, the facilities available aren’t adequate to cope with the enormous volumes of contaminated wastewater and sludge generated.

An environmental disaster, such as Hurricane Sandy, could cause wastewater treatment plants to overflow, resulting in contamination of surface and groundwater sources.

Very often, the treated wastewater along with the toxic chemicals is pumped into the ground for disposal.

Still, this process has been implicated as the cause of the increase in earthquakes experienced since it was initiated.

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Scarred Landscapes

The environmental impacts are not just limited to fracking operations. There are also indirect environmental and social impacts. Fracking brings with it a wave of industrial activity into normally quiet rural communities.

The land is cleared to construct new infrastructure in the form of access roads and well sites.

Heavy machinery is trucked in to drill and encase wells, pump fracking fluids, and extract gas from the wells. The toxic sludge byproduct of the process then needs to be trucked out and disposed of somewhere ‘safe.’ This requires a labor force, which needs to be housed.

Bang goes the quiet rural atmosphere as the trucks and machinery hurtle in, polluting the air we breathe, the soil we grow our crops on, and the water we and our livestock depend on for our very survival.

The land is scarred and devaluated, the environment is compromised, and the health and livelihoods of human communities that live there are threatened.

While some countries like France and Germany have outright banned fracking, alarmingly, despite the dangers, many countries around the world, including the US, UK, Ireland, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand, have not.

It seems ludicrous that governments worldwide will allow energy companies to poison their water sources, yet this is exactly what is happening. Some things are more precious than oil and money – water is top of that list.

Only when all the rivers are poisoned and the wells run dry will they realize the error in their ways, but by then, it may be far too late.

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House on cracked road

In 2015, there were 704 quakes in central and southwest Alaska, according to the USGS. The surge in earthquakes is believed to be caused by wastewater disposal wells. Natural earthquakes of sufficient size have caused structural damage and injuries.

With how uncommon natural earthquakes are, these states are ill-equipped to handle the seismic activity. In 2010 and 2011, a number of small earthquakes damaged the property of several homeowners in Arkansas as a result of fracking sewage disposal. Oklahoma and Ohio have seen large increases in seismic activity as a result of their growing oil and gas industries.

Environmental degradation

Fracking, like other oil and gas operations, necessitates a lot of manufacturing. Well pads, access roads, pipelines, and utilities are accompanied by deafening round-the-clock noise levels as well as constant vehicle traffic. A large internet network may damage forests, rural areas, and important animal habitats by fracturing trees.

Natural gas drilling has jeopardized half of the mountain deer‘s vital winter habitat, according to another study in northwest Denver.

According to research on the impact of fracking wastewater sprayed on forested land in West Virginia, approximately half of trees died after fracking began as soon as it started.

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Air pollution

Factories emitting smoke into the sky through chimney

Oil and natural gas production, particularly fracking operations, is a serious issue that endangers the health of surrounding populations due to the potent greenhouse gas that is emitted during the fracking process. The oil and gas sector is the main source of domestic methane pollution.

Oil and gas operations are known to produce many hazardous air pollutants, including xylene. In rural Utah, scientists estimated that the amount of smog-producing chemicals produced every year was equal to the emissions of 100 million automobiles.

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Fracking in the United States

Machine used for Fracking

In 2016, 60% of 977,000 oil fields were horizontally drilled and fracked. Gas-oil-rich shale rock and other tight rock formations may be found in 30 states.

The Marcellus Shale, the Permian Basin, the Bakken formation, and the Texas Eagle Ford shale gas mine are among the most productive shale gas deposits in the United States. Other sectors, such as the fossil-fuel sector, are examining regions with significantly lower potential output rates such as the Florida Everglades.

Fracking in Florida

At the expense of Florida’s natural resources, the EPA is still developing tiny amounts of gas and fuel, as they are being used to enhance the Everglades conditions. Slow extraction and water sputtering are oil well stimulation methods that reduce ozone production from conventional oil deposits.

The injection of water and other chemicals into the soil that allow oil to be carried to greater depths more easily and without breaks is used to acidify.

In Florida, acidification is more popular than fracking because of its geology. Because of its geological conditions, acidification is more commonly utilized in Florida than fracking. The state government as well as local environmental organizations are aware of environmental concerns related to oil drilling in the state.

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Fracking in California

California is the fourth-largest oil producer in the United States as of 2017, owing to continuing conventional production. According to a 2014 study of California’s oil and gas development, roughly 5.4 million people live within a mile of one of the 84,000+ existing wells.

When hydraulic fracturing takes place in California, it varies from other locations since it sometimes occurs at shallower depths and closer to sources of pure water.

Fracking in Texas

The state with the highest rate of ozone pollution in the United States is Texas. Higher levels of poisonous chemicals were discovered in the water near fracking sites, according to studies.

the many negative health and environmental effects of fracking and other fossil fuel extraction techniques persist. As reported by NBC, making a law to safeguard the public might be challenging.

Texas hosts two of the United States’ most productive unconventional plays: The Permian Basin and Eagle Ford.


What are the 3 environmental impacts of fracking?

The environmental impacts of fracking include emissions of air pollutants and methane, destruction and disruption of habitats (especially for the endangered species like the sage grouse), and increasing earthquake risks.

An environmental effect is any alteration in the environment’s quality that results in loss or relocation of resources, which are usually classified into six categories: water usage, soil erosion, land-use change, waste production, toxic emissions into the environment, and gene mutation.

A further environmental description could be anything that has an impact on climate stability – biogeochemical cycling – biodiversity – natural systems resilience – trace gas balances.

The biggest worry is that this incident will have an impact on human health. Because there may be disputes about whether something occurred, the situation is more complicated.

What are the negative impacts of fracking?

Environmental impacts depend on geology. If an area has been geologically dead for a long time, the environmental impact may be unrelated to fracking.

Technically speaking, it would mostly affect the environmental and human health in the proximity of each borehole and in locations where water is used in large quantities including in hydraulic fracturing (otherwise known as hydrofracturing or “fracking”), which entails shooting high-pressure water down a drilled wellbore to extract gas from dense shale rock.

However, another survey found that most environmental scientists believe that pollution from natural gas extraction outweighs any economic benefits such as increased tax revenue and job creation.

Is fracking environmentally friendly?

Environmentally speaking there’s no such thing as an environmentally friendly method for extracting oil or gas, especially when you consider that most petroleum drilling techniques will extend over several miles and require the construction of roads and pipelines on the pristine territory. Oil extraction always has a negative environmental impact on some level.

It’s hard to determine if it’s more or less damaging than say natural gas extraction which requires less power use but still produces methane emissions escaping from natural gas wells during production. Given the risks of environmental damage from fracking, the benefits do not appear to outweigh the cons.

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