Hydraulic Fracturing Essay

Cause and Effects of Hydraulic Fracturing

Hydraulic Fracturing is the process where millions of gallons of water that contain thousands of chemicals is pushed thousands of feet below the surface of the earth releasing gas, oil and sand from shale rocks (Hydraulic Fracturing Definition.) This chemical-filled water passes through water ways that are vital to life causing millions of animals, plants and humans to be harmed. Fracking is a global issue for citizens but a global success for big companies getting rich off the gas, oil and sand that are our natural resources; the economic benefits are not worth the environmental and health consequences.

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A large deposit of natural gas that spans across four states is called the Marcellus Shale that stretches through southern New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia is a big hit for big fracking companies like Schlumberger, Halliburton, Sanjel, Baker Huges, Frac Teck, CalFrac and many more (The Numbers.) The Marcellus Shale is not the only deposit of natural gas, but in figure one on the next page from Wisconsin Watch organization where deposits of natural gas, along with the Marcellus Shale, in the United States (Pegnman, Kate.) After discovering the Marcellus Shale these companies needed to find a better, cost efficient way to mine this methane gas. Atomic Energy Agency in 1967 had an idea to explode a nuclear bomb to unleash the gas, though that idea died quickly and a new one was made by Halliburton Corporation (Armstrong, Rachel.) They came up with an idea of high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking.

The process of fracking is taking anywhere from five to seven million gallons of water laced with sand and a startling menu of poisonous chemicals to crack the shale rock and release the methane gas trapped inside of it (Bowman, Charlie.) Essentially ‘bombing’ the shale with the massive pressures from pushing the sand and chemical laced water a mile or so down a well bore into the shale (Bowman, Charlie.) But fracking companies don’t just get their methane gas, they not only get their millions of gallons of wastewater back up with it. This water contains all the chemicals that the fracking companies can disclose, such as: Hydrochloric Acid, Formic Acid, Methanol, Potassium Hydroxide, Quaternary Ammonium Chloride and many, many more (What Chemicals Are Used.)

Countries around the world have been taking on the trend of fracking, but also realizing the risk to the environment and its people do not add up the economic benefits. France – the first country to ban fracking on June 30, 2011 voted 176 to 151 to ban fracking (Fracking.) Vermont, May of 2012 was the first state to ban fracking. Bulgaria was the second country to ban fracking in January of 2012, Bulgarian MPs voted overwhelmingly for a ban on fracking because of huge street protests by environmentalists (Fracking.) April of 2011 South Africa calls halt to fracking (Fracking.) They decided to stop the development until the ecological consequences have been studied (Fracking.) Fracking has been suspended in New South Wales and Australia (Fracking.) Since March of 2012 Eastern Canada shows concern about fracking even though 70% of all gas wells in Canada now use fracking, the treatments remains controversial to the government (Fracking.) Quebec put a freeze on fracking while Nova Scotia and New Brunswick are confined by public backlashes, giving the idea of fracking very unappealing at a political standpoint (Fracking.)

Fracturing not only affects people accross the world but also right here in western Wisconsin. The upper Midwest’s round, hard sand makes it ideal for fracking, and a fracked well could use anywhere from 2 million to 5 million pounds of sand (Banerjee, Neela.) The production would take place in places like Trempealeau, Buffalo and Chippewa (Banerjee, Neela.) The rapid expansion of sand mining through western Wisconsin has raised fears among some residents and hope in others, often pitting neighbors against one another, just as fracking has done elsewhere.

When the contaminated water comes up, it seeps into local households’ drinking water, causing a number of harmful consequences to air and water quality, food supply and livestock, health effects, spontaneous explosions and fires, property values, local economy, earthquakes, and the list goes on (Save Colorado from Fracking.) While most of the hydraulic fracturing is happening over shale plates all over the world, In November 2012 Wisconsin started supplying sand for hydraulic fracturing which also poses health risks, but major cash for those who lease their land.

With all these consequences from hydraulic fracturing many wonder how the government hasn’t stepped in and regulated the fracking companies. Having the “Hallibruton loophole” – named after the first company licensed to practice fracking – allows these companies to be exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, and CERCLA since 2005, and has never been forced to publicly disclose the contents of the fluids it uses to fracture wells. This loophole was created when the Bush-Cheney administration can EPA no longer hold the authority to control and regulate hydraulic fracturing (Fracking.) Chris Tucker, a spokesperson for Energy in Depth, (a company that focuses in on research, to educate the public on getting the facts out about the promise and potential of responsibly developing America’s onshore energy resource base) said that hydraulic fracturing has been used for 65 years in 30 states with a “demonstrable history of safe operations,” and that companies voluntarily report lists of chemicals used in individual wells (Fracking.)

The economy is making big profits and many benefits due to hydraulic fracturing. With having 400,000 natural gas wells across the United States this creates thousands of jobs for people. In 1980 fracking companies supported 267,000 employees according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis (Hassett, Kevin A.) In 2011 alone the United States produced 850,983 cubic feet of natural gas from shale gas wells (The Numbers.) Per thousand cubic feet of natural gas costs about 4.24 dollars, this comes out to a profit around 36 billion dollars (Hassett, Kevin A.) Not only does it have large profits but it has a huge direct effect on trade balance with the US and other countries. Between 2007 and 2011 natural gas imports decreased by 25 percent, with this four year decrease Energy Information Administration predicts that the USA will become a net exporter of natural gas by 2020 (Hassett, Kevin A.) Though “The word in the world of independents is that the shale plays are just giant Ponzi schemes and the economics just do not work,” says a spokesperson from IHS Drilling Data, an energy research company (The Numbers.) Shocking news that the economics just do not work with the gas companies many are finding out that it’s not as cheap to extract from the shale as the they intended it to be (Hunt, Spencer.) According to hundreds of industry emails and internal documents, and an analysis of data from thousands of wells the energy executives, industry lawyers, state geologists and market analysts about the condescending forecasts and question whether companies are intentionally and even illegally overdoing the productivity of their wells and the size of their reserves (Hunt, Spencer.)

In the next few years the economic benefits could flourish but the environmental consequences could be notorious. GAO (Government Accountability Office), an independent nonpartisan agency that works for Congress, concludes that fracking poses serious risks to the health and the environment and this conclusion came from the companies who produce millions of gallons of brine, a salty chemical-infused wastewater, as part of drilling and fracking each well (Fracking.) Drillers are supposed to inject this material thousands of feet underground but do to the lack of government oversight it usually doesn’t end up that far. According to data by ProPublica, oil companies in North Dakota reported more than 1,000 accidental releases of brine in 2011, about as many as in the previous two years combined (Geman, Ben.) Scientists thought that the many layers of rock would keep the fluid safely locked nearly a mile below water supplies and because of this theory the government sees minimal threat to the environment (Gasland.) Though in April of 2012 The Obama administration said it is creating a high-level working group to coordinate federal oversight of natural gas production, because Obama is now seeing the effects these chemicals have when it has seeped into people’s drinking water (Gasland.)

When the fracking fluid has contaminated drinking water it contains ions such as barium, chloride, nickel, and bromideand potassium making drinking water become tinted yellow and brown making it cloudy. Also, the water begins to bubble and hiss or fizz like soda, from the methane, causing it to actually ignite if contacted with sparks or fire (What is Fracking?). People
living within a half-mile of oil and gas well fracking operations were exposed to air pollutants five times above a federal hazard standard, according to a new Colorado study (What is Fracking?.) Ozone-forming air pollution measured along the Colorado Front Range by scientists is up to twice the amount that government regulators have calculated should exist, according to a new study and Thomas Shelley, a chemical safety and hazardous materials specialist said, drilling activity and traffic create high levels of dust, and methane from venting and flaring contributes to the air pollution (What is fracking?.) These chemicals may combine with nitrogen oxides to form a ground level ozone. The researchers pinpoint oil and gas development as the main source (What is Fracking?). From the water and air pollution people in close proximity to oil and gas activities may be at increased risk for cancer, cardiovascular disease, asthma, and other disorders due to uncontrolled or high exposures (What is Fracking?). Many people have reported that they “just feel sick” all the time with dizziness, nausea, and constant migraines and that it’s not only harming humans. Livestock that also depends on ground water are having still births and sterile livestock. In one day 17 cows died after drinking fluid that had spilled from a nearby natural gas well (What is Fracking?). “We’ve got to push the pause button, and maybe we’ve got to push the stop button” on fracking, said Adam Law, an endocrinologist at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York (Scott, William.) In May of 2012 a study predicts that fracking fluids could migrate to aquifers – body of permeable rock that can contain or transmit groundwater – within a few years, much more quickly than anticipated (Scott, William.) This study has now started new concerns with the safety and process of gas drilling. Scientists began to believe that the many layers of rock would keep the chemical filled liquid safely locked nearly a mile below the aquifers (Scott, William.) With this theory it posed very few threats toward the environment. Though this study shows with computer modeling, it concluded that faults and fractures in the Marcellus shale made by the fracking, could allow chemicals to reach the surface in just a few years (Fracking.) The biggest consequences due to fracking is the number of the instances that people are getting sick, animals dying, vegetation and land being terminated and well water being contaminated. As hydraulic fracturing is growing, the investment in it has raised the
concerns of contaminated drinking water to the idea now that government needs to make closer monitoring of the fracking fluid so that there is proper installation of well casings that prevent the fluid leaking into wells. This is highly prioritized in the effected citizens because now insurance companies are dropping those with fracking related policies (Gasland.) Nationwide is the first major insurance company to announce that it will no longer cover damages related to natural gas fracking operations which states, “From an underwriting standpoint, we do not have a comfort level with the unique risks associated with the fracking process to provide coverage at a reasonable price (Fracking.) Fracking not only uphold major health effects for human and animals but it is causing natural disasters to accrue as well. In Oklahoma USGS scientists report a major increase in U.S earthquakes that they say are most certainly man-made (Bowman, Charlie.) In April of 2012 scientists had a theory that these earthquakes were from fracking because their analysis showed that shortly after hydraulic fracturing began 50 small earthquakes were identified which 43 were large enough to be located. The following month there were studies in Ohio that proved that the fracking caused earthquakes (Armstrong, Rachel.) Another environmental concern that Cornell University researchers found that shale gas could be worse for the climate change than coal (Fracking.) The shale gas wells leak substantial amounts of methane gas and coal, greenhouse gas which makes its climate impact worse than conventional gas, coal as well. Stats indicate that over a 20-year period the net warming impact of extruding shale gas is worse than coal and conventional gas combined (Fracking.) Other ways that some don’t think of that can really affect people is by their loss in property value. A study done in Colorado in 2001 showed that properties with coal-bed methane gas wells were valued 22 percent less than similar properties without wells (Save Colorado From Fracking.) Like Jared and Heather McKikens of La Plata, Colorado, who were encouraged to evacuate, their home now contaminated with explosive levels of methane gas and their well water is also polluted as a result of nearby natural gas drilling (Save Colorado From Fracking.) Their home and property value plummeted 85 percent, from 250,000 dollars to now a low value of 35,000 dollars. Mr. McKikens said, “When your house does not have fresh water it’s pretty much worthless (Save Colorado From Fracking.)” It took
mother nature millions of years to create this earth and now we are destroying it in a matter of minutes on that kind of spectrum from the earth’s timeline. Many look at hydraulic fracturing as a way to cash in, but many can see how it’s harming the earth. In the documentary, “Gasland” directed by Josh Fox in 2010, it goes more into depth with the direct effects of how it harms individuals, and whole towns. The economic benefits are not worth the environmental consequences that include unnatural natural disasters, climate change, polluted water and air, people getting sick, animals getting sick and dying, insurance lost and even homes lost leaving innocent families, lost. These things can lead a devastating domino effect on the earth. Unnatural natural disasters could get more catastrophic with time, making it so that whole cities could be in ruins if the earthquakes continue, causing families homeless and large amounts of relief efforts to help these abandoned people. Climate change is already happening, hydraulic fracturing is only speeding up the process to where the temperatures get so high the earth will end up like Mars. Polluted water and air can only lead to the biggest consequences of all, it could kill our plants, animals, our ecosystem which we need in order to survive. People say that the plants can adapt, but at the rate they are fracking there is no way plants could catch up. This water is making humans and animals sick, so it’s only a matter of time before it not only kills animals, but humans as well. These things might be considered far-fetched, or over dramatic, but they are likely possibilities if hydraulic fracturing continues. These economic benefits do not out way the environmental consequences, because without an environment, there would be no economics.