Drilling companies claim that trillions of cubic feet of oil and gas may be recoverable from shale rock through a controversial process known as fracking. But experts and environmentalists are up in arms and have come up with data that reveals why fracking is bad, perhaps even extremely dangerous for the environment.
Fracking involves a process of drilling deep down into the earth and inserting a high-pressure mixture of water and other substances at the shale rock to release the oil and gas trapped there.
The process can be carried out by drilling horizontally to the rock layer, thus creating fresh pathways to release the fresh reserves of gas trapped inside. Existing channels are also extended by this method. The process can also be carried out vertically.
Identifying And Exploration Of Areas For Fracking
Geologists look for areas that contain deposits of shale gas. Once the area for exploration is identified by geologists, a borehole is dug vertically for about a mile to identify deposits. The borehole pierces through the topmost layers of the crust of the earth, numerous subterranean layers, and the water table before it reaches shale deposits deep underground.
Shale consists of compressed mud along with other particles of quartz and calcite. It is the most common of the sedimentary rocks and is charcoal-colored.
The shale rock layer’s structure consists of horizontal strata with tiny channels between them that are inclined to splitting, or fissility, the tendency of rock to split along flat planes of weakness. The process of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, makes use of this natural composition of the shale rock and forces the gas trapped within to escape.
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According to experts, drilling for fracking is unproven science, and it is the reason why fracking is bad. But licenses are being awarded at a furious pace. In the UK alone, the government has awarded more than 100 licenses for fracking. This will allow firms to go for a range of oil and gas exploration activities in various areas of the country. They will also need the permission of the local council in the areas they are operating.
The Working Of The Fracking Process
Once the well finally reaches the layer of shale, multiple horizontal shafts are created with the help of drill rods. They normally extend to within half a mile horizontally but can extend up to several miles.
Vast measures of liquid are then forced through the shafts. This liquid is a mixture of several chemicals, and water. The high pressure and volume of the fracking liquid find their way inside the tiny fissures inside the shale and the rock finally shatters. The liquid is then channeled through the shafts till they are pushed to the earth’s surface.
The gas released by the fracking process that rises to the top consists mostly of methane. Most of it gets trapped, but around 4% leaks out into the atmosphere. Other gases that escape into the atmosphere include benzene, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and formaldehyde.
Methane is as much as 25 times more injurious than carbon emissions to the vulnerable ozone layer, as it is effective at trapping heat. Environmentalists are distressed at the potential damage it can do to the atmosphere and hasten global warming.
While proponents of the process say that fracking releases natural gas trapped in ancient bedrocks. Proponents say they are a cleaner substitute for coal. When burnt, it gives out a lesser quantity of greenhouse gases.
Though fracking is an old technology, experts believe there are several reasons why fracking is bad and not a feasible source of clean energy as it is made out to be.
Natural gas is a better alternative to coal, but it is the lesser of the two evil. It is not carbon-neutral, the reason why fracking is bad as it substitutes one polluting form of energy for another.
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Scientists have other reasons to believe why fracking is bad. There are several environmental perils associated with the process of fracking. Geologists and scientists remain unsure of the exact reasons why fracking is bad, but quite a few danger signals are emanating from the process.
Why Fracking Is Bad For Water Reserves
Experts have voiced deep concern as they consider fracking bad for freshwater reserves around areas where drilling is done. Millions of liters of sand, water, and a cocktail of chemicals are drilled into the wells at high pressures. These chemicals are the main reason why fracking is bad for the water table. They contain acetic acid, formaldehyde, boric acid, and a host of other chemicals.
Most chemicals mixed with the liquid cocktail are at volumes of 0.5% to 2.0% of the total liquid. Dangerous chemicals such as mercury, uranium, and lead are present.
The water is thus highly toxic and 25% to 75% of it goes up to the surface. This contaminated wastewater is then injected back into the wells. This heavily toxic water is a potent threat to the underground aquifers and is the main reason why fracking is bad for the water table of surrounding areas.
It also contaminates the soil and water bodies on the surface. Records of violations are an example of why fracking is bad for water reserves. More than 1,500 gas wells in the Marcellus Shale region in Pennsylvania indulging in fracking were booked for violations.
Fracking requires a massive quantity of water and allowing them to operate will aggravate the freshwater crisis already spreading around the planet. ‘Flowback’ water will contaminate streams and other sources of water on the surface. The water contaminated through the process of fracking cannot be returned to its natural source as it is highly toxic.
Why Fracking Is Bad For Human Health
Scientists have repeatedly stressed why fracking is bad for human health. Environmental activist and scientist Sandra Steingraber has extensively studied the connection between cancer and fracking. She has pointed out that as much as 25% of the fluid that is injected deep into the earth for the fracking process comprises cancer-causing fluids. These fluids find their way into water bodies used by the public.
Methane and benzene were found in drinking water aquifers and other groundwater sources in Wyoming and Pennsylvania. Benzene is carcinogenic and is a cause of leukemia in children.
Fracking has also been found to release ionizing radioactivity from radium-226, which is naturally occurring. Exposure to it is a cause of breast cancer.
The wastewater discharged from cities where fracking operations are underway, often contains high levels of bromide and radiation which is directly linked to colon and bladder cancer.
Why Fracking Is Bad For Animals
While several chemicals present in the fracking fluid are carcinogenic, other chemicals are harmful to animals. Some chemicals disrupt endocrines (EDCs). Reports by the United States Geological Survey have revealed that out of the 750 mixtures of chemicals that are used in the fracking process, more than 100 are considered EDCs. They have been related to neurological, reproductive, gastrointestinal, and respiratory conditions. The chemicals have been linked to the death of fish in water contaminated due to fracking and have also been linked to wildlife sex changes.
How Does Fracking Contribute To Heightened Seismic Activity
The potential threat of fracking leading to heightened seismic activity has been a cause of much debate. As most of the fracking sites in the US are located in the seismic hazard zones of California, more confusion is created.
The UK also experiences around 15 minor earthquakes of low magnitude. But an earthquake occurred just 500 meters away from a fracking site. The fierce pressure created by the fracking operation activated a tiny fault of around 100 meters. It caused the site to move around 1 centimeter and caused an earthquake measuring 2.3 on the Richter Scale.
Why Fracking Is Bad For Farming
Farmers in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale region leased out their land to explorers. While the farmers still own the rights to the land, the rights to the minerals on the farmland are not under their control.
Farmers abandon their land as they are unable to take the gas companies to court for access to the mineral deposits on their land. And farmers who opt to stay back in areas where fracking has taken place risk the loss of life, crops, and their livestock to contamination caused by fracking fluid.
The use of fracking has brought down the cost of extracting oil and gas considerably. But the environmental costs of the process are much higher. The immediate hazards it poses have prompted Germany to ban its use while New York and Maryland have also halted its use.
The effects of fracking on land and water resources have not been fully studied yet. Fracking has the potential to disturb the ‘geological basement’ of the planet, as Sandra Steingraber puts it. Fracking creates fissures in the earliest rock formation of Earth, the Precambrian bedrock. This layer has led to earthquakes in Pennsylvania. Numerous other hazards have been directly linked to fracking operations.
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The International Energy Agency has outlined the many hurdles that are still to be identified fully and overcome. They include the risk of air contamination, the severe pollution of surface and groundwater, the threat of heightened seismic activity, and the greenhouse gases that get released.