Simply typing hydrofracking into a search engine yields results calling for an end to its practice. With climate change being a reality and with hydrofracking being a contributor to it has urged activists to rally for its end. So, given the negative effects caused by the activity, hydrofracking is under international scrutiny.
In fact, hydraulic fracturing (as it’s also called), is restricted in certain countries and banned in others. Some nations have put moratoria in place and some are approaching it with tight regulation.
Why is there such outrage when it comes to hydrofracking? To understand that, it’s best to look at what it does.
What Is Hydrofracking?
Also called hydrofracturing, hydraulic fracturing, fracking or fraccing, hydrofracking is an oil and gas extraction technique, albeit a controversial one. The process was developed in the late 1940s in order to gain access to fossil energy deposits that were previously inaccessible to drilling operations.
The hydrofracking process involves the smashing of rock using millions of gallons of water, along with sand and undisclosed array of chemicals, to bring gas to the surface.
Data from 2012 indicates that 2.5 million “frac jobs” have been performed on oil and gas wells around the world, with one million of those being done in the US alone.
Proponents of the practice have stated it provides more jobs, more fuel and therefore more money. Timothy Considine, a leading expert in natural gas reregulation, says that “For state and local governments, oil and gas are cash cows.” Opponents of the process would argue otherwise stating environmental issues, health impacts and others as reasons for it to stop.
Let’s look deeper into the reasons for both sides.
List of Pros of Hydrofracking
1. It provides more jobs
Fracking involves the construction of wells in industries that use natural gas. As such, manpower would be needed for the building of those wells which of course means, job creation.
However, others would argue that employment through “frac jobs” would only be temporary. In addition, there’s a possibility that local residents won’t get those jobs as drilling companies would import out-of-state residents instead.
2. It brings in money
Although New York has officially banned fracking, there were supporters of allowing the drilling method in the state. The Marcellus Shale is a black shale formation extending from Ohio and West Virginia to Pennsylvania and the Southern Tier and Catskill regions of New York. This particular shale was the center of dispute years ago. Fracking supporters cited the money the state would get just by drilling into that area.
3. It is beneficial for the environment
Some proponents of fracking do believe that it does more good than harm to the environment. Bryce Hand, emeritus geology professor at Syracuse University, says that “Any major industrial operation will have costs, environmental costs.” But he argues that fracking for natural gas provides a community with cleaner fuel that produces less carbon dioxide emissions. Hand also believes this will help fight global warming.
List of Cons of Hydrofracking
1. It is bad for the environment
Food & Water Watch is a non-governmental organization and consumer rights group focusing on corporate and government accountability with regards to food, water and fishing. The organization published a report called The Urgent Case for a Ban on Fracking which detailed the several environmental and social impact of fracking.
The report details evidence on the many reasons fracking should be banned, among which include:
- The production of massive volumes of toxic and radioactive waste.
- The pumping of hazardous pollutants into the air.
- The destabilization of the climate.
The waste of the oil and gas industry – mostly the leftovers of what’s brought to the surface – contain corrosive salts, radioactive material, toxic metals, hydrocarbons and fracking chemicals. The disposal of these wastes have been linked to earthquakes. And not just that, they have been tied to contaminating drinking water as well.
Various amounts of hydrogen sulfide, arsenic and selenium are brought to the surface through drilling and fracking. Not only that, they are accompanied by ancient salt waters or brines. The brines that surface depend on the targeted rock formation. But no matter what the case, they usually contain salts (chlorides, bromides and sulfides of calcium, magnesium and sodium), metals (barium, manganese, iron, strontium, etc) and radioactive material.
The chemicals mentioned above have been safely at sequestered and immobilized underground. But due to fracking, these pollutants are brought to the surface at levels enough to risk health risks and damage the environment through water, soil, air and climate pollution.
In addition, the leaks, accidents, spills and explosions that result from fracking are expensive and dangerous to clean up.
Fracking releases large amounts of methane gas, which is known to trap 87 times more heat than carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. As such, it contributes significantly to global warming.
Actor Mark Ruffalo has long been vocal about ending the practice of fracking. He said, “By stopping this fracking, it doesn’t mean that we have to go backwards – we don’t have to take an economic hit or lose jobs. It means moving forward with clean energy, the power of the 21st century.”
2. It is detrimental to health
Fracking causes thousands of accidents, leaks and spills every year. These events are a threat to the health and safety of the public and the community. Rivers, streams, shallow aquifers and farms are also affected by such catastrophes.
It is a public health issue and a human right to have access to affordable clean water. However, public water systems are facing challenges made worse by global warming through locally severe droughts, extreme storms and altered rainfall, snowfall and snowmelt patters. The oil and gas industry has been responsible for the climate pollution that have contributed to global warming. Adding drilling and fracking to the mix makes the situation even worse than it is.
Fracking and drilling release three different streams of pollutants into the air:
– clouds of silica dust from mining for and managing the sand used in fracking liquids.
– the plumes of combustion byproducts from engines, flares and explosions.
– stream of pollutants which the oil and gas industry bring to the surface and leak into the air.
A review of the public health impacts of drilling and fracking reported that “[r]espirable silica can cause silicosis and lung cancer and has been associated with tuberculosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, kidney disease, and autoimmune disease.”
Those who work at fracking sites are not spared from health issues. When the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health measured the silica levels at 11 well sites, they found that exposures exceeded the thresholds put in place to protect the health of workers. What’s even worse, the thresholds in some exceeded by a factor of 10.
Residents who live close to fracking sites are at risk as well. Some have complained that breathing is difficult.
The exhaust from the diesel generators and large trucks at well sites are also exposing people to health risks. Not only that, the smoke from flaring at well sites, processing plants and compressor stations contribute risk as well. Even worse, the second stream of toxic air emissions due to explosions adds significant risk too.
Trucks are needed to transport water, chemicals and equipment. They are also used to transport the waste resulting from drilling and fracking. Calls to the industry to convert the trucks to burn natural gas have been made to reduce the air quality problems from diesel exhaust, as well as the respiratory and cardiovascular health issues associated with it.
3. It destroys communities
Fracking disrupts local communities. It has contributed to damaged public roads, declines in property value, increased crime and a rise in demand for emergency services. These threats severely impact the quality of life of citizens, as well as the local economy.
In Pennsylvania, housing shortages have resulted in double or triple values for local rents. And because of that, lower-income workers who have been self-sufficient now have to turn to public assistance to cover for a higher cost in living.
The disruptions caused by oil and gas companies even stay with the community even after the companies have left. In 2014, a study focusing on community risks revealed that “[o]ver the long-term, natural resource dependent communities experience relatively high rates of unemployment and poverty, instability, inequality, crime, and low educational attainment.”
Communities don’t get to profit from the drilling that happens in their area either, particularly if the companies that move in to perform fracking aren’t from town. And when these companies leave, sectors such as agriculture and tourism continue to suffer.
Fracking also turns homes into explosive hazards. The contamination of water wells with methane and other flammable gases significantly risks the health and safety of families, as well as their property. Accidents, leaks and spills contribute their part to the destruction of communities by affecting water quality in rivers, streams and shallow aquifers.
Scientists also believe that injecting large amounts of fluids underground have contributed to the increased frequency of earthquakes in the US. It’s because the fluids pumped into the ground have entered and activated previously unknown faults.