Extreme Damage and the Effects of Fracking

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According to a 2014 study, at least 15.3 million Americans have lived within a mile of a fracking well that has been drilled since 2000 (Lallanilla).  If it impacts so many people, why is fracking not talked about as much as it should be?  The effects of fracking are causing extreme damage to the earth, affecting water, adding pollutants on land, air quality, an increase of earthquakes, quality of life around sites, and the impact on wildlife.  These topics should be talked about because they already directly impact 15.3 million Americans and the number is climbing each year.

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“Extreme Damage and the Effects of Fracking”

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         Fracking, what the frack is it?  Hydraulic fracturing, commonly called fracking, is a drilling technique used for extracting oil or natural gas from deep underground (Lallanilla).  Americans use natural gas or oil every day.  That nice warm shower uses natural gas to heat the water. That delicious breakfast was is often cooked using a natural gas stove.  In 2012 about 30% of the energy consumed across the nation was obtained from natural gas (King).  Cars need gas to run, heating units use it, so do clothing dryers, lights, and other appliances.  Natural gas is essential to the daily lives of people all over the world. During 2009 the United States consumed about 22.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.  King says Americans use so much natural gas that it would fill a room as big as the state of Pennsylvania about 18 feet high (King).  That is a lot of gas!  Fracking gets Americans the fuel for their everyday necessities, but at what cost? 

        Everyone drinks water, humans need it to survive but what happens when that water becomes contaminated?  How are humans supposed to drink it if it is becoming polluted by fracking?  It is no secret that fresh drinking water is already becoming scarce, but now that water is being used for something other than drinking.  Hydraulic fracking uses lots of water to produce American’s natural gas.  It can take up to 7 million gallons to frack a single well, and at least 30 percent of that water is lost forever, after being trapped deep in the shale (McGraw).  Not only is the water being used, but a good percentage of that water is now lost and cannot be put to use.  Fracking needs so much water that it has been known to causes droughts and deplete an area of their water.  The Fracking wells require a fluid mixture to bust through the different layers of rock to free the oil trapped inside but what happens to those liquids when they are done?  Each well produces millions of gallons of toxic fluid containing not only the added chemicals, but other naturally occurring radioactive material, liquid hydrocarbons, brine water and heavy metals (Hoffman).  These companies try to dispose of the liquids properly, but it is not 100 percent.  These liquids are toxic and if they spill they can seriously hurt people surrounding the wells including their drinking water.  For example, A fracking well in Bradford County, Pa., operated by Chesapeake Energy Corp., malfunctioned in April 2011, spewing thousands of gallons of contaminated fracking water for more than 12 hours (Lallanilla).  Is that a risk worth taking just to drill for oil?  Humans are not the only ones who drink water, so do animals.  Hydraulic fracking is extremely dangerous for the quality of the small percent left of potable water on Earth.

        Soil, rock, and so much more is getting destroyed by fracking.  These companies are pumping toxic fluids into the earth to break up shale to find oil deposits but these hazardous solutions 

The study found that certain chemicals within wastewater used during the fracking process could trigger the release of certain particles within soil. These particles then bind pollutants to metals, which means that the pollutants could cause more damage to wildlife and human health in the event of a spill (Fracking).

Spills are very common and are detrimental to the earth and all of its inhabitants.  According to journalists at Pro Publica, oil companies reported over 1,000 oil spills in North Dakota, 2011, with many more going unreported, state officials admit (Hoffman).  This is just one year, in one state, and state officials openly admitted that there are more oil spills undocumented.  Some companies are trying their best to discard of their toxic waste properly, but there are others who do not, simply because the state does not have strict regulations.  This can result in oil companies disposing radioactive waste in landfills that are not equipped to handle that kind of waste (Cho).  If companies are not going to clean up after themselves why should they be devastating the earth in the first place?

        Inhale and exhale, humans do this every day, it is a necessity, and the human body can only be without oxygen for roughly 6 minutes before the brain starts to shut down.  Fracking is taking that clean oxygen and turning it into toxic chemicals that humans still breathe in.  Fracking and natural gas are not are only options to energy, the more researchers are bringing light to the disturbing side effects the more people are thinking about alternatives. Wihbey says that fracking is not helping clean up the air and researchers are looking more into changing to wind, solar, geothermal, and other sources that produce fewer or no harmful airborne fine particulates.  The air quality is already terrible in highly populated cities due to exhaust from cars but now there are particulates from burning this natural gas.  It is even worse for those who live around the drilling sites and there have been documented cases and lawsuits for families who have been directly affected.  Bob and Lisa Parr filed for a lawsuit and won their case, After several years of experiencing nosebleeds, nausea, ringing ears and rashes, which they attribute to toxic emissions from gas production, the Parrs sued Aruba Petroleum and were recently awarded $2.9 million in damages (Cho).  Fracking is becoming more harmful than helpful with these emissions.

        The earth is caught in the middle of this pro or con fracking debate, and it obviously cannot use words to tell humans that they are slowly killing it; However, it can show them.  Earthquakes are happening more and more all over the world but especially by drill sites.  The culprit of earthquakes near fracking sites is not believed to be the act of drilling and fracturing the shale itself, but rather the disposal wells. Disposal wells are the final resting place for used drilling fluid (Connelly).  Connelly goes on to say that the earth has faults and if there is water being pumped into those faults, they can slip causing these earthquakes.  Some of these earthquakes are small so companies do not think much of them, but the largest one recorded was a magnitude of 5.2 (Hoffman).  These seismic events are not stopping or slowing anyone’s production rate what so ever.  Starting in 2001, when shale gas and other unconventional energy sources began to grow, the rate rose steadily to [approximately] 100 such earthquakes annually, with 188 in 2011 alone (Wihbey).  These may not be catastrophic events but the are still earthquakes due to human activity and could have potential to be a big issue further down the line. 

         Every year, about 13,000 new wells are drilled (Lallanilla).  There are already hundreds of thousands of oil wells around the U.S. and every year thousands more are built.  There are roughly 325 million people living in the U.S. so there are obviously people who have to live by these oil wells and drill sites and it is impacting them greatly.  Their water is taken, their water is polluted, their air quality is poor, their health is affected, and so are their lands and roads.  These extra toxins being pumped into the ground are affecting the groundwater for these people.  In a documentary called GasLand, A Colorado man holds a flame to his kitchen faucet and turns on the water. The pipes rattle and hiss, and suddenly a ball of fire erupts (McGraw).  This is the water these towns people are supposed to be drinking.  Their drinking water literally caught on fire.  Researchers looked at the health of people around oil sites in Colorado, they found an increased risk mainly stemming from oil and gas related pollutants, which can cause symptoms of shortness of breath, nosebleeds, headaches, dizziness, and chest tightness (Srebotnjak).  These people have no choice and often get to compensation.  But these companies are coming into small towns and making them feel commercialized and making it have a more industrial feel.  The big, heavy trucks beat up our roads over hundreds of trips back-and-forth – with well-documented consequences for local budgets and infrastructure (Wihbey).  Their roads are getting trashed by these oil companies that are bringing in their trucks and it’s the people’s tax money that are going into fixing the roads while their quality of life has no improvement.  Fracking is causing all of these negative effects for the local people and are hurting their health tremendously.

        Fracking not only impacts humans’ drinking water but also their food sources.  Humans are not the only creatures on this planet and the actions of these oil companies are also hurting the wildlife.  A study by two Cornell University researchers indicates the process of hydraulic fracturing deep shale to release natural gas may be linked to shortened lifespan and reduced or mutated reproduction in cattleand maybe humans (D’Alessandro).  Animals do not know to stay away from contaminated groundwater because they do not know that toxic fluids spilled into their water.  There have been many cases of animals dying directly from the solutions, but none can be proven for sure because oil companies do not have to disclose their chemicals used (Good).  For example, of one case:

A farmer separated his herd of cows into two groups: 60 were in a pasture with a creek where hydrofracking wastewater was allegedly dumped; 36 were in separate fields without creek access. Of the 60 cows exposed to the creek water, 21 died and 16 failed to produce calves the following spring. None of the 36 cows in separated fields had health problems, though one cow failed to breed in the spring (Good).

It is not just cows and livestock impacted by fracking but also fish.  They are dying due to pollution and also the draining of lakes because fracking requires so much water (Good).  Another example, State and federal scientists found that the toxic fracking waste “killed virtually all aquatic wildlife in a significant portion of the fork.” The dead and distressed fish had developed gill lesions and suffered liver and spleen damage (D’Alessandro).  Fracking is killing the animals that humans count on for food, so they are shooting themselves in the foot.

        Fracking is terrible for the planet, for humans, and for wildlife.  If it is so bad, then why still use it?  There are so many different options that are safer, cleaner, and more sustainable.  Natural gas is not the only option for energy.  There is biomass, hydropower, geothermal, wind, and solar (Renewable).  Natural gas is going to run out eventually, so researchers should be looking deeper into these other options.  Fracking is affecting water, adding pollutants on land, air quality, an increase of earthquakes, quality of life around sites, and the impact on wildlife, causing extreme damage to the earth.  Fracking should be replaced with greener energy and these effects will dissipate to have a healthier earth and its inhabitants.    

Works Cited

  1. Cho, Renee. The Fracking Facts. State of the Planet, 6 June 2014, blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2014/06/06/the-fracking-facts/. Accessed 13 Nov 2018.
  2. Connelly, Kelly, et al. How Oil and Gas Disposal Wells Can Cause Earthquakes. NPR, NPR, 2018, stateimpact.npr.org/texas/tag/earthquake/. Accessed 13 Nov 2018.
  3. D’Alessandro, Nicole. How Fracking Hurts Animals. EcoWatch, EcoWatch, 30 Jan. 2014, www.ecowatch.com/how-fracking-hurts-animals-1881858641.html. Accessed 13 Nov 2018.
  4. Fracking ‘Could Cause Greater Levels of Soil Pollution’. Pollution Solutions Online, www.pollutionsolutions-online.com/news/soil-remediation/18/breaking_news/fracking_could_cause_greater_levels_of_soil_pollution/30718. Accessed 13 Nov 2018.
  5. Good, Kate. No Fraccident: How Animals Are Hurt By Fracking. One Green Planet, 17 Dec. 2014, www.onegreenplanet.org/animalsandnature/no-fraccident-how-animals-are-hurt-by-fracking/. Accessed 13 Nov 2018.
  6. Hoffman, Joe. Potential Health and Environmental Effects of Hydrofracking in the Williston Basin, Montana. Teach the Earth, 5 Apr. 2018, serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/health/case_studies/hydrofracking_w.html. Accessed 13 Nov 2018.
  7. King, Hobart M. Uses of Natural Gas. Geology.com, geology.com/articles/natural-gas-uses/. Accessed 13 Nov 2018.
  8. Lallanilla, Marc. Facts About Fracking. LiveScience, Purch, 9 Feb. 2018, www.livescience.com/34464-what-is-fracking.html. Accessed 13 Nov 2018.
  9. McGraw, Seamus. The 10 Most Controversial Claims About Fracking. Popular Mechanics, Hearst Communications Inc., 1 May 2016, www.popularmechanics.com/science/energy/g161/top-10-myths-about-natural-gas-drilling-6386593/. Accessed 13 Nov 2018.
  10. Renewable Energy Explained. U.S. Energy Information Administration, 13 July 2018, www.eia.gov/energyexplained/?page=renewable_home. Accessed 13 Nov 2018.
  11. Srebotnjak, Tanja, and Miriam Rotkin-Ellman. Fracking Fumes: Air Pollution from Hydraulic Fracturing Threatens Public Health and Communities. NRDC Issue Brief, Dec. 2014, www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/fracking-air-pollution-IB.pdf. Accessed 13 Nov 2018.
  12. Wihbey, John. Pros and Cons of Fracking: 5 Key Issues. Yale Climate Connections, 27 May 2015, www.yaleclimateconnections.org/2015/05/pros-and-cons-of-fracking-5-key-issues/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI256xsq7H3gIVDtRkCh2pUgy_EAAYASAAEgIaLfD_BwE. Accessed 13 Nov 2018.

 

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