Although the harm caused by consistent hydraulic fracturing – or fracking, as it is casually known – to the global climate is widely known, for many people, its ill effects are striking much closer to home, as their water and land become poisoned with toxic chemicals released by this destructive process.
Fracking is a process wherein large amounts of chemical-laden water are injected into shale to release pockets of gas and oil. This water is rendered useless and is usually toxic. Incredibly, it is then often re-injected underground, where it runs the risk of leaching into drinking water sources. Not only does this water bear the toxic chemicals that were injected into it during fracking, but it also brings up naturally-occurring heavy metals, radioactive isotopes and volatile organics from thousands of feet underground.
A recently released report highlights the disturbing amount of air pollution and water contamination caused by fracking in the U.S., and examines its impact on local communities.
The paper, Fracking by the Numbers, was released by the Environment America Research & Policy Center. According to the report, at least 239 billion gallons of water have been used for fracking. This equates to three million gallons per well on average. The process created a whopping 15 billion gallons of wastewater, just in 2014. Some of the chemicals that can be leached into drinking water sources as a result of fracking include benzene, hydrochloric acid and formaldehyde.
In fact, wells that have been newly fracked actually released 2.4 million metric tons of methane in the year 2014 alone. This is the same amount as the annual greenhouse gas emissions released by 22 coal-fired power plants!
According to the report, 137,000 fracking wells have been drilled or permitted in more than 20 different states, disturbing more than 1,000 square miles of our country's land.
Richardson said, "I think the report paints a frightening picture of fracking's harms. A lot of these harms are things that people living on fracking's front lines are experiencing first hand."
Dangerous incidents and lawsuits related to fracking piling up
Lawsuits have been cropping up in response to this dangerous practice. For example, a court awarded two Pennsylvania families more than $4 million last month, after a seven-year legal fight against a fracking company that contaminated area water sources.
An Oklahoma woman is suing a local gas and oil company after getting injured from an earthquake that was allegedly caused by fracking. Meanwhile, a Texas man incurred severe burns on his body after methane from fracking caused his well shed to explode.
Perhaps most disturbingly, however, Texas scientists discovered elevated levels of chemicals that are known to cause cancer in the drinking water in a major fracking area of the state. More than ten different metals and 19 different chemicals were found, including benzene, toluene, xylene, ethylbenzene, arsenic, strontium and selenium.
People who are concerned about the presence of heavy metals in their tap water can send water samples to EPAWatch.org. The non-profit Consumer Wellness Center is carrying out a national scientific analysis, the results of which will be disclosed on EPAwatch.org.
A study in the Atmopsheric Environment journal shows that air pollution caused by fracking can travel hundreds of miles. Ethane levels in Washington, D.C., and Baltimore actually rose by 30 percent in the years between 2010 and 2013, as nearby states embraced the fracking trend, and the rise has been largely attributed to the practice.
Some of the significant long-term threats posed by this practice include cancer, climate change and increased earthquake activity. It is so dangerous that it has been banned in the state of New York, while Maryland halted all fracking while investigating its risks.
As more and more evidence comes to light of just how badly fracking is destroying our environment and our health, it is hoped that widespread bans will be instituted.