Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a type of drilling responsible for the mass production of oil and natural gas in the U.S.
This technique has been used for over 65 years, but today it is much more advanced and includes a combination of advanced hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling. Hydraulic fracturing is actually the process of shooting a mixture of water and sand deep into the ground for the purpose of breaking rocks and freeing the oil and gas trapped inside, so that they could be pumped out and used.
When water and sand go deep enough, the drilling continues horizontally for another few thousand feet. When the drilling process is done, the well is cased and cemented, and water (90%) and sand (9.5%) and additives (0.5%) are pumped under high pressure to make small cracks in the rocks which remain open thanks to the sand. The chemicals added protect the pipes from corrosion. When enough cracks are created, the cracking fluid is extracted and the extraction of gas and oil can begin. Once all the gas is extracted, the hole is sealed along with the fracking fluid which is pumped back into the hole after the extraction of natural gas.
Although fracking has been known since the 1940s, the U.S. has been using this technique only for the last ten years, mainly because other conventional methods of gas extraction have become exhausted and the prices have gone very high.
Fracking is a much more expensive method than the conventional ones, but it has become attractive as it has been shown to be very profitable. In the U.S. this method has been used more than a million times and has produced more than 60% of all oil and gas used in America. Thanks to this method, the U.S. has gained access to oil and natural gas reserves that were previously unreachable, which has significantly changed the energy picture of the country, and this has now become the primary method of gas extraction.
Hydraulic fracturing has improved the energy situation in America, which could now even become the world’s leading oil producer. When it comes to natural gas, the U.S. is already at the top, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). Today, there are over 500,000 active natural gas wells in America.
The fracking fluid contains, besides water and sand, around 600-700 chemicals (some of which are carcinogens and toxic) including lead, uranium, ethylene glycol, mercury, radium, methanol, formaldehyde and hydrochloric acid.
During the process of fracking, methane gas and toxic chemicals can exit the system and contaminate the water reservoirs close to the well, and today near every fracturing well drinking water contains 17 times more methane than places near regular wells. This leads many experts to believe that this method can be very dangerous. There have been more than a thousand cases of water contamination near the wells, which has led to many health problems for people who live near by. Many of them have experienced respiratory, sensory and neurological damage caused by drinking such water.
But the damage doesn’t stop there.
The waste fluid evaporates into the air and releases volatile organic compounds which contaminate the air, cause acid rain and ground level ozone. The natural gas extracted by fracking mainly consists of methane, a greenhouse gas around 35 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. Natural gas is surely less toxic than coal when burnt, but the overall damage brought by the process of hydraulic fracturing is much greater, particularly because the wells are quickly exhausted and new wells have to be drilled often, and that requires much energy.
Hydraulic fracking brings great profits to the U.S. and produces around 300,000 barrels of natural gas each day, but those profits cannot measure to the damage this method causes to the environment and the health of people.
The water gets so contaminated and becomes so toxic that it cannot be cleaned even in a treatment plant. The contamination could be controlled if proper safety measures were upheld, but in the U.S. much water is already contaminated due to negligence.
The risks of hydraulic fracturing for drinking water and the environment are still unforeseeable and studies need to be conducted for proper assessment, but the negative impact that has already been caused should not be neglected and seen as irrelevant.