What is Fracking and How Does it Impact Us?

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As the debate on fracking continues more evidence is stacking up that demonstrate adverse affects that require deep consideration. If you’re not familiar with fracking it was a practice developed in the 1940’s to gain access to fossil energy deposits. They call it “hydraulic fracturing” which is the smashing of rocks with millions of gallons of high pressured water, sand and an undisclosed assortment of chemicals in an effort to bring gas to the surface. This drilling process can take up to a month, while the drilling teams delve more than a mile into the Earth’s surface.

Oddly, in May 2014, the North Carolina Senate voted to make it a crime to disclose the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, even as big U.S. oil companies elsewhere consider releasing more information about the fluids to address public concerns about the environment. The legislation, proposed by three Republican state senators aims to protect trade secrets about fluids used to extract oil or gas from wells using fracking. Environmentalists concerned about groundwater contamination and health risks want more information made public. Under the “Energy Modernization Act,” a state geologist would be the custodian of confidential information about fracking fluids. The information can be given to healthcare providers, the public safety department or the fire chief in case of an emergency.

To date the dangers of fracking that have been raised almost seem endless. Some include, water contamination, air pollution, methane pollution and it’s impact on climate change, gas explosions, waste disposal, infrastructure degradation, and earthquakes. For example, you might have seen the videos of people who turn on the kitchen faucet, run the water, and when they hold up a match or lighter the water ignites in a huge flame.

You can watch an example of flammable drinking water here

The Associated Press (AP) requested data on drilling-related complaints in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Texas and found major differences in how the states report such problems. While Texas provided the most detail, other states only shared general outlines.

The AP found that Pennsylvania received 398 complaints in 2013 alleging that oil or natural gas drilling polluted or otherwise affected private water wells, compared with 499 in 2012. The Pennsylvania complaints can include allegations of short-term diminished water flow, as well as pollution from stray gas or other substances. More than 100 cases of pollution were confirmed over the past five years.

Findings According to AP

  • Pennsylvania has confirmed at least 106 water-well contamination cases since 2005, out of more than 5,000 new wells. There were five confirmed cases of water-well contamination in the first nine months of 2012, 18 in all of 2011 and 29 in 2010. The Environmental Department said more complete data may be available in several months.
  • Department of Natural Resources spokesman Mark Bruce states, “Ohio had 37 complaints in 2010 and no confirmed contamination of water supplies; 54 complaints in 2011 and two confirmed cases of contamination; 59 complaints in 2012 and two confirmed contaminations; and 40 complaints for the first 11 months of 2013, with two confirmed contaminations and 14 still under investigation, Department of Natural Resources spokesman Mark Bruce said in an email. None of the six confirmed cases of contamination was related to fracking.”
  • According to officials, “West Virginia has had about 122 complaints that drilling contaminated water wells over the past four years, and in four cases the evidence was strong enough that the driller agreed to take corrective action.”
  • “A Texas spreadsheet contains more than 2,000 complaints, and 62 of those allege possible well-water contamination from oil and gas activity, said Ramona Nye, a spokeswoman for the Railroad Commission of Texas, which oversees drilling. Texas regulators haven’t confirmed a single case of drilling-related water-well contamination in the past 10 years, she said.”

Earthquakes

1682576-poster-1280-crack-740x493From April 30 – May 2 in Anchorage, Alaska the Seismological Society of America (SSA) held it’s 2014 annual meeting. During the discussions seismologists explained that disposal of underground wastewater due to fracking could play a much bigger role in causing earthquakes than experts previously thought.

Emphasis was placed on the United States Southwest and Midwest regions. Currently, there are no solutions on the table for hazard prevention. “The warning comes as evidence continues to accumulate that the activities associated with the North American oil and gas boom can lead to unintended, man-made tremors, or ‘induced seismicity,’ as researchers call it,” stated Patrick J. Kigerof National Geographic,adding that while the fracking process itself has been associated with earthquakes, in most cases the cause of such seismic activity is “injection of fracking wastewater into disposal wells.”

The SSA cites significant increases in seismic activity linked to increased fracking and wastewater operations in Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas and Ohio among other states.

The number of earthquakes occuring in the United States has increased dramatically over the past few years and is being attributed directly to hydraulic fracturing and the injection of waste water. To give you an idea of how significant, the average rate of earthquakes above 3.0 was 21 from 1967 to 2000 according to the US Geological Survey, but it was about 100 per year between 2010 and 2012.

A key point made by the seismologists was that the seismic hazard caused by fracking or related activities can have an impact farther away from the fault line than they once thought. According to Science Daily, “A new study of the Jones earthquake swarm, occurring near Oklahoma City since 2008, demonstrates that a small cluster of high-volume injection wells triggered earthquakes tens of kilometers away. Both increasing pore pressure and the number of earthquakes were observed migrating away from the injection wells.”

In addition, based on a new study by Canada’s Western University in Ontario, wastewater disposal can create new hazards not currenlty accounted for in existing building codes and infrastructure planning (includes dams, nuclear power plants, underground pipelines, and other man-made development that may amplify damage when affected by earthquakes).

“In some sense, from a hazard perspective, it doesn’t matter whether the earthquakes are natural or induced. An increase in earthquake rate implies that the probability of a larger earthquake has also risen.”, states USGS geophysicist Justin Rubinstein.

Fracking wastewater pit

Fracking wastewater pit

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