Fracking: What is it? (By C. Gagliano-Veiga)

What is Fracking?

Hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking is the process of extracting oil or natural gas underground through different types of rock formations – usually shale (Hawkins 2015). This process occurs by sending highly pressurized and large amounts of fracking fluid through horizontal wells to create fractures in the rock formations. These fractures allow for the release of oil or natural gas through now penetrable circuits to the surface through extraction.

Before fracking even occurs, exploration of the recoverable oil and natural gas is made in order to determine the maximum yield with the least amount of environmental impact (Mehany 2016). The rock formation then has to be examined by geoscientists and geo-engineers to determine the amount of recovery time of the environment (Mehany 2016). Production of the extraction site are then made, which include access to the site and building of the physical infrastructure. After the fracking occurs, the collected oil or natural gas has to go through different stages to be completely refined and processed in order to be redistributed (Mehany 2016). Following the completion of a fracking operation in a specified area, restoration to the land should be made in order to maintain the least amount of impact with an attempt to return the land to its former state (Mehany 2016).

There are many opinions about fracking, primarily due to the fact that it uses approximately 2-5 million gallons of fracking fluid per operation, which is primarily made out of 90% water, sand, and other chemicals (Lee and Weingarten and Shemin 2015). There are also other environmental and health concerns considered with fracking.

Fracking Concerns

There are two environmental concerns when it comes to fracking and water: water contamination and water consumption.

Water Contamination

            To get to the contained resources, a vertical well is placed through several different layers of earth until it reaches the rock formation, passing through aquifers containing groundwater. Fracking fluid has the capacity to contaminate as it does contain chemicals such as different types of acids, but also because of the release of gas that includes methane, which happens during the fracking process (Lee and Weingarten and Shemin 2015). Therefore, there is a possibility of contamination of the groundwater through instances such as accidental blowouts and pipe leakages (Mehany 2016). There is also a possibility for contamination of surface water through other instances such as improper waste removal or surface spills (Mehany 2016).

 Water Consumption

Water consumption is another key issue as each fracking operation uses anywhere between 2-5 million gallons of water. In 2011, a study was conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency which found that, “approximately 35,000 fractured wells across the U.S required an estimated 70 to 140 billion gallons of water each year which is equivalent to the total amount of water used annually to support 40 to 80 cities with a population of 50,000 or about 1 to 2 cities of 2.5 million people.” (Mehany 2016, 446). Therefore, not only are there environmental concerns when it comes to fracking, but also other concerns when it comes to overconsumption.

 Air Pollution Concerns

            There are also a number of air pollution concerns as natural gas contains methane, which has likelihood to escape during the fracking process. In 2012, a study found that “producers of natural gas are losing an average of 4% of the gas to the atmosphere” (Mehany 2016, 446). There are also other emissions accumulated by the use of fracking machinery as it a large scale industrial operation. Therefore, along with environmental and overconsumption concerns, there are also concerns to human health.

 Geomechanical Pollution

            There are many geoengineering processes that control seismic activity of faults due to the deformation of the earth’s crust. Fracking, which is a large scale industrial operation, puts stress on the Earth’s crust therefore having the capacity to induce seismic activity (Klose 2012). Fracking generates micro quakes, which are earthquakes that are too low on the richter scale for scientists to record (Lee and Weingarten and Shemin 2015). These micro quakes are fairly harmless by themselves and do not pose major threat. However, when they occur simultaneously, they can produce earthquakes with a high of 5.6 on the richter scale (Lee and Weingarten and Shemin 2015).

Why do we Frack?

Fracking occurs because oil or gas is trapped between impenetrable layers of rock that cannot be accessed with normal drilling. Oil and natural gas is a commodity that is bought and sold on world markets, therefore there is a high demand for them (Merrill 2013). According to President Obama in his 2012 State of Union, he declared that there were 600,000 additional jobs given to workers in the United States for fracking alone (Merrill 2013). Therefore, fracking occurs for economic purposes due to its large impact on job and world markets.

In conclusion, there are many debates about fracking, both its influence positively on the world market, but most importantly its negative impact on the environment.

References

Hawkins, J. “Fracking: Minding the Gaps.” Environmental Law Review 17, no. 1 (2015): 8-21. doi:10.1177/1461452914563217.

Lee, Jin-Yong, Matthew Weingarten, and Shemin Ge. “Induced Seismicity: The Potential Hazard from Shale Gas Development and CO2 Geologic Storage.” Geosciences Journal Geosci J 20, no. 1 (2015): 137-48.

Mehany, Mohammed S. Hashem M. “Identifying Cost Centers and Environmental Impacts Needs Assessment for Fracking Life Cycle in the United States.” Procedia Engineering 145 (2016): 444-51.

Merrill, Thomas W. “Four Questions about Fracking” The Law and Policy of Hydraulic Fracturing: Addressing the Issues of the Natural Gas Boom.”. Case Western Reserve Law Review 63.4 (2013): 971-994.

Klose, Christian D. “Mechanical and Statistical Evidence of the Causality of Human-made Mass Shifts on the Earth’s Upper Crust and the Occurrence of Earthquakes.” J Seismol Journal of Seismology 17, no. 1 (2012): 109-35. doi:10.1007/s10950-012-9321-8.

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