The Environmental Implication of Fracking (simplified)

By Ian Teñido

Photo credit: Forbes

The demand for oil and gas remains high even as other technological advances in clean energy are made. Actually, the oil and gas industry has been expanding in recent decades as a result of advances in oil extraction technologies as well as in their transportation. One of the most controversial technologies in oil/gas extraction is hydrofracking; normally simplified as fracking. This method was developed in the 1940s as a way of gaining access to the fossil energy deposits that were previously inaccessible by drilling operations. Fracking is done by digging vertical well bores that are drilled thousands of feet into the earth. The fracking penetrates through sediment layers, shale rock formations, and the water table in order to reach the oil and gas deposits never concurred before. The drilling is angled horizontally followed by a cement casing installation. The casing serves as the conduit for the massive volume of water alongside other fracking fluids and sand. The fracking fluids and other undisclosed chemicals are used to fracture the rock and shale formations. In some cases, explosives have been used to open up the bedrock. In the end, fracturing allows the oil companies to remove gas and oil from formerly impervious rock formations.

As can be deduced from the fracking process above, it is undeniable that the environment suffers from a manifold of risks due to its vulnerability as an active agent throughout the fracking process. The most notable environmental impact of this process is air pollution. One of the well-known chemicals used in fracking operations is methane. Well, it is established that about 4% of it escapes into the atmosphere during the extraction process. Now, come to think of this: methane is almost 25 times more potent and stronger than carbon dioxide in terms of trapping heat. Therefore, any release of methane into the atmosphere is detrimental to the air quality and the subsequent greenhouse effect. This, unavoidably, leads to global warming and climate change.

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Photo credit: Google

Equally, the other ancillary components and elements utilized in the fracking process directly/indirectly increase air pollution at the well sites. These components include the pollutants released from new construction of the sites, subsequent fracking locations, and transportation of the contents. It cannot be lost to me, that fracking uses millions of gallons of water in a single fracking site. This, in effect, reduces the amount of clean water available for daily normal human use. In fact, when water is unavailable, locally, in the fracking sites it is transported from other regions ultimately leading to very similar ending-of reducing the clean water availability to residents. In the process of drawing water, its contamination is almost always certain. This is because chemicals are used in the drawing process. At the same time, wastewater is a huge issue at the fracking sites. Between 20% and 40% of the water used in the fracking process is returned on to the ground. However, such water contains toxic substances and cannot be utilized directly. The presence of contaminants in the water is an environmental hazard by itself.

The effects discussed above are only but two. There are a series of other effects including earthquakes, oil spills, blowouts, workplace safety, and infrastructure degradation which are equally of greater concern. The bottom line, however, is that while fracking has the potential to increase and provide more oil and gas to consumers, the fracking process of extraction has irreversible negative impacts on the surrounding and larger environment.


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