What? What the frack is fracking?
Fracking, also called hydraulic fracturing, is the process of obtaining small amounts of natural gas and oil sequestered within crevices of ancient shale rock. As quantities of these fossil fuels continue to diminish elsewhere, fracking becomes increasingly popular. To obtain the fossil fuel, workers drill a deep well either vertically or at an angle 2 or more miles long that reaches the area of where the fuel is estimated to be. From here, the well is drilled straight up about a mile or so to the exact spot of the crevices that contain the fuel. Then, steel or cement is encased within the well to ensure nothing accesses groundwater and contaminates it. Finally, the well is filled with what is called slickwater, which is mostly water with about 2% of it containing chemicals such as; detergents, salts, acids, alcohols, lubricants, and disinfectants.
This slickwater is pumped into the well with proppants, which are sand and ceramic particles, to "prop" (hence the name) open the crevices more in order to easily access the fuel. The slickwater and its proppants are pumped through this well, over 9,000 pounds per square inch! This kind of extreme pressure of course breaks the shale up and opens the crevices so much that the natural gas or oil is released and pumped back to the surface. Along with this fuel, however, comes flowback. Flowback liquid contains water, radioactive material (high concentrations of radon that came from decayed uranium), heavy metals, hydrocarbons, as well as other toxins. This liquid is usually just left on site in pits because the volume of flowback that comes with the fuel is so much that the expense of dealing with it far exceeds what these small-town water treatment plants can take on.
The United States has boomed its fracking to avoid the high costs of foreign oil from 276,000 wells in the year 2000, to 510,000 wells in 2010. Today, nearly 15.3 million Americans are living within a mile of a fracking well that has been drilled since 2000.
The results of fracking
Advocates for fracking say that accessing this sequestered fossil fuel will guarantee our country with energy and a healthy economy for decades to come. But at what cost? In April of 2011, Chesapeake Energy Corp. had a malfunction and contaminated the area with thousands of gallons of fracking water for over 12 hours. The next year, 3 families had contaminated drinking water from fracking and sued Chesapeake Energy Corp for $1.6 million. Also in 2011, researchers out of Duke University tested the drinking water from 60 different sites near fracking wells throughout both Pennsylvania and New York, and found concentrations of methane within a range that the U.S. Department of Interior states is dangerous and requires urgent 'hazard mitigation action'. Further reports might have occurred, but public access may be prevented due to legal settlements and nondisclosure agreements.
When fracking occurs; benzene (a known carcinogen), ethylbenzene, toluene, and n-hexane are released into the air. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) have stated that long-term exposure to these can cause birth defects, neurological disorders, blood disorders, and cancer and that the workers on site might be exposed to high levels of respirable silica in dust- found in 116 full shift air samples at 11 fracking sites in five states. 150 studies have been done on the chemicals released during fracking and found that these same chemicals have been known to harm human reproduction and development, as well as causes birth complications and miscarriages. And in 2016, a study found that living near a fracking well risks a development of asthma.
Furthermore, seismic activity has increased in places near fracking wells in levels that are on par with California. Fracking is believed to be the culprit for Oklahoma's strongest earthquake in 2011 and numerous earthquakes in Texas in 2008 and 2015. Fracking can also cause sinkholes to occur where the ground suddenly collapses into a giant pit, depending on the sensitivity of the area. This is the case in west Texas where two sinkholes, a mile apart, occurred from fracking and now the land in between is deteriorating to form one massive sink hole, according to scientists.
the movement against fracking
Fracking causes health, environmental, and cultural degradation. It tends to be drilled in rural areas where nearby residents are below the poverty line or consist of elderly or uneducated to take advantage of possibly their lack of knowledge about fracking repercussions, that would otherwise inhibit the extraction. It violates the treaties in Canada that allow First Nations to hunt, fish, trap, and carry out traditional practices, which contributed to a large part of the First Nation movement, Idle No More. It has sparked the creations of numerous organizations and movements, as well as protests and picketing. Fracking endangers lives, alters the landscape, adds dangerous toxins to soil and water that ruins vegetation and poisons animals, it induces seismic activity, and it costs millions of dollars in repair and lawsuits.
When the world has short supplies of freshwater availability as it is and 160,000 cubic metres of water is being pumped for a little fossil fuels, and then triggers a 4.6 magnitude earthquake in Northeast B.C., it would seem priorities need a little sorting.