Hydraulic Fracturing (AKA Fracking)

Source: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Source: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images 

Coming to college has caused me to take new perspectives on a lot of things, many of which have to do with being in a new environment. I grew up in a small town in Maine where environmental hazards reached about as far as discussion on whether or not to close down MERC, an outdated waste incineration plant that was emitting harmful substances into the air. Nothing was really talked about. I had an understanding that global warming was occurring, but I did not see the effects of it, at least not in my own town. I grew up recycling and understanding that you do not leave the water running if you are not using it. I knew that I had to turn the lights off when I left my room. I learned about renewable energy in high school; solar panels were installed onto our campus, and classes were designed around sustainability and action. I understood all of these things were important, but I do not think I fully understood what was going on. I did not realize that what I had been raised to do was that important, at least not until I ventured off to college.

I never truly realized how in danger our planet is. I never realized the amount of terrible things we, as humans, do to contribute to the harming of Earth. I was overwhelmed with the amount of information being given to me about the negative things we are doing, but the one that really hit home is the idea of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking for short. The idea that we are pumping thousands of chemicals into the environment and harming numerous amounts of people, plants, and animals and the people who are responsible for this do not see a problem with their action blows my mind. The environmental and health risks caused by fracking for are too harmful despite what oil companies argue. Therefore, fracking should be banned before it is too late to turn the damage around. 

What is Fracking?

Using information I have learned from class discussions and readings, as well as information from Josh Fox’s film, Gasland, and film based website, fracking is defined as:

A means of natural gas extraction employed in deep natural gas well drilling. Once a well is drilled, millions of gallons of water, sand and proprietary chemicals are injected, under high pressure, into a well. The pressure fractures the shale and props open fissures that enable natural gas to flow more freely out of the well (Fox).

Source: inhabitat.com

The resources used in this process cannot be reclaimed as they are    contaminated with the thousand of chemicals used for fracking. In other words, the millions of gallons of water used are now no longer clean and are past the point of being cleaned again to be safe for general use by humans. In a report published by UNICEF it was stated that “783 million people do not have access to safe, clean drinking water” worldwide (“Water and Sanitization”) and according to an article published by the Clean Water Fund, “7 million Americans are sickened by contaminated tap water every year” (Krall). The need for clean, drinkable water is very real and mixing millions of gallons of it with chemicals is not a good solution to this need.


Why is Fracking bad?

Along with the extreme amount of water wasted in the fracking process, the amount of contamination caused by fracking is also extremely detrimental. Hundreds of harmful chemicals are injected into the ground and these chemicals do not stay where they are put, “leaving a trail of contaminated water, polluted air, and marred landscapes in its wake” (“The Costs of Fracking”). Water contamination in homes has increased as drilling has started to occur closer to homes. It was reported that the wells near homes in Northeastern Pennsylvania and New York were contaminated with methane, and in many cases, it was reported that the tap water in homes could be lit on fire (Holzman) and, reports from Dimock, Pennsylvania stated that there were well explosions and water contamination that was not noticed before drilling began to occur near their homes (Siler).

A citizen examines polluted water from her drinking water supply. Source: sites.psu.edu
A citizen examines polluted water from her drinking water supply. Source: sites.psu.edu

The companies responsible for the fracking and pollution of drinking water have provided those with contaminated wells with clean water, however, not all homes have been accounted for and when they go to the oil companies responsible for this, they are turned down immediately and no blame is taken on the side of the oil company. A good example of this is highlighted in Fox’s film, Gasland, when he goes to interview big oil companies; the representatives in the film immediately deny that they are responsible for the contamination, even though they have already provided other families with clean drinking water.

What about the oil companies?

Oil companies do not see a problem with fracking, and why would they when they make so much money from the process? According to an article in the Environmental Health Perspectives journal, “natural gas provides almost 25% of the U.S. energy supply and could provide 50% by 2035” (Manuel). These statistics show that our dependence on natural gas is only continuing to rise, therefore gas and oil companies are only going to continue to grow, and while it may seem like our dependence of natural gas is the only way to go, the contributions that natural gases make to climate change may deter this idea. “Natural gas produced by fracking does add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere through leakage during gas extraction and carbon dioxide release during burning,” (Brantley and Metendorff) so while a large natural gas supply might be a big booster for oil company revenue, it is extremely harmful to our environment. This access might also make us more reliable on natural gas and less focused on renewable resources and alternative energy sources.

Another reason why oil companies back fracking has to do with the Clean Drinking Water act:

Source: www.gaslandthemovie.com/take-action

In 2005 Congress exempted fracking from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act… The authors of this report wrote that hydraulic fracturing poses “minimal threat” to drinking water and that “additional or further study is not warranted at this time.” However, the study involved no direct monitoring of water wells but instead relied on existing peer-reviewed literature and interviews with industry and state and local government officials. It also was strictly limited to one specific type of drilling and did not address the effects in substrates other than coalbeds (Manuel).

Since fracking is exempted from the act, oil companies are given more rights than they deserve. The mentality that what they are doing is safe, even though there are reports stating other wise, is extremely dangerous. With this mentality, oil companies gain power over families who have to live with contaminated water and there is nothing that the families can do to fight against them. The power that oil industries have continues to cause problems and their exemption from the Clean Water Act only adds to that power. If they are not required to follow certain requirements, why would they? 

How can we stop fracking?

It is clear that fracking needs to be stopped and there are many steps that us citizens can take in a positive, productive movement towards the elimination of fracking. A step in a positive direction that might not stop fracking all together but could save a lot of people from illness and pollution is fighting for better regulations. In order to do this, public contact with elected officials needs to happen. We, as citizens, need to let it be known that we do not want fracking to continue as it is harming many people’s lives and will only continue to do so if strict regulations are not put into place. We need to fight to get fracking to be regulated under the Safe Drinking Water act and we need to make sure that oil companies become responsible for their actions, especially in the cases where drinking water has become polluted (Fox). There is power in numbers, and the more people who contact their officials, the more likely something will be done about the issues of fracking.

Source: prwatch.org
Source: prwatch.org

A bill was presented in 2009 called the “Frac Act” which was created in attempt to “amend the Safe Drinking Water Act to repeal a certain exemption for hydraulic fracturing” (“S. 587–112th Congress: FRAC Act”). Basically, the “Frac Act” “would require the energy industry to disclose the chemicals it mixes with the water and sand it pumps underground in the hydraulic fracturing process (also known as fracking)” (Fox). The bill has not been enacted but it is important that communities continue to fight for the “Frac Act” in order to stop the amount of pollution caused by fracking. As of right now, it is not required for companies to disclose the chemicals that are pumped into the ground during the fracking process and under this bill, they will no longer get away with that, in turn saving numerous people from illness.

It is also important for people to tell their stories. If your life is affected by fracking, let it be known. There are numerous videos and articles out there by those who have been affected by showing their drinking water contamination by lighting their tap water on fire. Those people especially need to make these issues known, and reaching out to other communities across America is only going to add to the power in numbers mentality.

Finally, it is important that we become less dependent on natural gases. If the need for natural gases goes down, fracking will become less necessary and pollution levels will decrease. Not only will pollution from fracking decrease, but pollution from burning fossil fuels will also decrease (Brantly and Metendorff). So look for alternative energy sources. There are an abundance of things that we can start doing whether it is riding a bike to work or to the store instead of driving or installing solar panels onto buildings, every action, no matter how small, is a step in a positive and constructive direction.

How does fracking affect places outside of the Marcellus shale?  

Fracking has yet to take place in my home state of Maine, but pollution from natural gas if very real all over America and this realization continues to become more realistic in my own life now that I am attending a school in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Living in a city is a lot different than living in my small, home town of Saco, Maine, but I believe that the same steps towards sustainability can be taken here in Pittsburgh as we have taken at home in Saco, just on a greater scale. Within the past five years, Saco has installed windmills on Main street at the transportation station as well as building the station with sustainability in mind with energy from the windmills, geothermal heating and cooling systems, and a roof made from recycled soda bottles. The station is located in a prime location for anyone traveling through town to see. It was the start of the green movement in Saco, with the station being America’s first truly “green station” (“Transportation”). This movement towards more sustainable energy is what the city needed to make people more aware of the importance of a more sustainable future. These models created by cities need to become more prominent across America. It is essential for us, as citizens of America, to start taking action. Whether that action is through contacting local officials, telling your story, or lessening the dependence on natural gas, they are all steps in the right direction in not only stopping fracking, but also a step towards a more sustainable future.

Works cited:

Brantley, Susan L., and Metendorff, Anna. “The Facts on Fracking .” NY Times 13 March 2013, n. pag. Web. 8 May. 2013.             <http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/14/opinion/global/the-facts-on-fracking.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0>.

Fox, Josh. “Take Action!.” www.gaslandthemovie.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 May 2013.      <http://www.gaslandthemovie.com/take-action>.

Holzman, David C. “Methane Found in Well Water Near Fracking Sites.” Environmental Health Perspective . 119.7 (2011): n. page. Web. 8 May. 2013. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3222989/>.

Krall, J. “Water is a Necessity of Life. Some Would Argue Water is the Necessity of Life.” www.cleanwaterfund.org. N.p., 13 Oct 2011. Web. 10 May 2013.

Manuel, John. “Mining: EPA Tackles Fracking.” Environmental Health Perspective . 118.5 (2010): n. page. Web. 8 May. 2013.             <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2866701/>.

“S. 587–112th Congress: FRAC Act.” www.GovTrack.us. 2011. May 15, 2013 <http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/112/s58

Siler, Patrick. “Hydraulic Fracturing In The Marcellus Shale: The Need For Legislative Amendments To New York’s Mineral Resources Law.” St. John’s Law Review 86.1 (2012): 351-385. Academic Search Premier. Web. 8 May 2013.

“The Costs of Fracking.” Environment America . Environment America Research and Policy Center, 20 Sep 2012. Web. 7 May 2013. <http://www.environmentamerica.org/reports/ame/costs-fracking>.

“Transportation .” www.sacomaine.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 May 2013. <http://www.sacomaine.org/transportation/>.

“Water and Sanitization.” www.unicefusa.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 May 2013. <http://www.unicefusa.org/work/water/>.

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