The effects of hydraulic fracturing (fracking)
Hydraulic fracturing is a controversial drilling process that uses highly pressurized water, sand and chemicals to extract natural gas and oil deeply buried in the earth. Hydraulic fracturing takes place throughout the United States and Canada. While differences exist among drilling locations, investor concerns are the same:
- Hydraulic fracturing fluids are known to include toxic and carcinogenic chemicals.
- There are numerous documented cases of environmental and public health impacts as a result of fracturing.
- Companies involved in this process do not disclose the chemical constituents of their fracturing fluids.
- Fracturing requires and has the potential to contaminate enormous quantities of water. In some cases the statistics around actual water used are confidentail for the first 6 months (Wyoming)
- Hydraulic fracturing operations have significant quality of life impacts-from the creation of a spider web of new roads, to increased traffic and noise pollution, to the increased potential for spills-on the communities where they operate.
- Drillers are not regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act.
CBS Evening News recently highlighted the significant environmental issues related to hydraulic fracturing. Click here for the video.
Hydraulic fracturing has been commercially producing since 1949, according to the oil and gas industry. Since 1949, hydraulic fracturing has helped produce more than 7 billion barrels of oil and 600 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. It is estimated that up to 90% of the wells operating today have been hydraulically fractured. According to the National Petroleum Council, 60% to 80% of all wells drilled in the U.S. during the next decade will require fracturing to remain viable. The process, which forces highly pressurized water, sand and chemicals into rock to release the gas and oil locked inside, gives drillers access to deeply buried gas deposits.
In 2004, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) examined hydraulic fracturing and determined it can be safe if diesel fuel isnʹt added to the drilling fluids. The agency based its decision in part on a non‐binding agreement with the three largest drilling service companies— Halliburton, Schlumberger and B.J. Services—to stop using diesel. But the agreement applied only to gas drilling in shallow coal deposits, and all three acknowledged using other potentially harmful chemicals, such as benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene and xylene.
- In 2005, Congress addressed hydraulic fracturing in the Energy Policy Act (EPAct). Under EPAct, Congress passed a provision for oil drillers that explicitly prohibits regulation of hydraulic fracturing under the provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act, the way the EPA regulates almost all other types of underground fluid injection.
- The industry does not have to comply with the section of the Clean Water Act that regulates pollutants at construction sites.
- And, it doesn't have to abide by the Clean Air Act, which regulates industrial emissions.
- Drilling companies are not required to report discharge of toxic chemicals for the Toxics Release Inventory under the Superfund law. In some fracturing jobs—like those in the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania and New York—more than 40,000 gallons of fracturing chemicals, with no company disclosure of the chemical constituents, can be used at a single well.
- Because the process is exempt from most federal oversight, it is overseen by state agencies that are spread thin and have widely varying regulations.
- A recent report by the Ground Water Protection Council revealed that only four of the 31 drilling states it surveyed have regulations that directly address hydraulic fracking and that no state requires companies to track the volume of chemicals left underground. One in five states doesn't require the concrete casing used to contain wells to be tested before hydraulic fracking.
- Approximately one‐third of the millions of gallons of water used in fracking returns to the surface, where it is either reused or trucked to treatment plants.
- More than half the states allow the open, dirt‐brimmed waste pits that collect toxic fluids to intersect with the water table, even though waste pits are connected to hundreds of cases of water contamination.