How Does Fracking Affect the Environment?

Aside from groundwater and drinking water pollution, fracking creates other water problems that are significant:

Excessive water use
For starters, each single fracture job on a vertical well uses 50,000 gallons of water. Horizontal wells use several millions of gallons of water. 1 And, once the well is initially drilled, fracking can continue anywhere from ten to eighteen times – using several millions of gallons of water each time.

This excessive use of water takes a significant toll on neighboring water supplies. Most of the water is taken from surface water sources (rivers, lakes, or municipal supplies), but groundwater often is used, also.

Contaminated water waste
Millions of gallons of water are used and contaminated during the fracking process, but it all has to go somewhere. Once the water surfaces again as waste water, the disposal method simply depends on the location of the frack job.

Some states, like Colorado, Texas, and Wyoming, leave the waste water to evaporate. Once the water is gone, the remaining sludge is disposed of in landfills. Other states process the waste water in municipal water treatment facilities. But these plants cannot adequately process the toxic waste water – the water can then be dumped into rivers or sent to waste water collections. Frackers in Pennsylvania attempted to clean the waste water, then released the still-polluted water into rivers and creeks. Once the unsafe water was discovered, frackers began shipping the toxic waste water to waste water wells in Ohio. 2

Frack quakes
Currently scientists and gas industry executives are debating whether or not fracking is causing earthquakes. According to National Public Radio, geologists have discovered “that even pumping water away from underground mines (to keep them from flooding) changes the dynamics of stress in rock formations enough to trigger a quake.”

Earthquakes have been occurring more frequently in fracking locations in Ohio and Arkansas. As NPR further explains:

“Some rock is saturated with water — the water occupies pores between rock particles. This creates what’s called ‘pore pressure’ and keeps the formation in a sort of equilibrium. If you suck the water out, particles tend to collapse in on themselves: the rock compresses. Add water, and you push particles apart. So moving water around underground can affect the stresses on those formations.

“Now let’s say there’s a fault in the earth. If the water content around the fault is changed, the fault might slip. If the water gets into the fault itself, it can lubricate the fault and trigger a quake.

“Recent quakes reported in Ohioand Arkansasare associated with wastewater wells, not fracking wells. The water first used in fracturing rock is retrieved and pumped into these waste wells, which take in lots of water. And at more than 9,000 feet deep, the water is under high pressure that can build up over months or years. It’s this pressure that can actually create earthquakes.” 3

What’s next
There are some societal repercussions that come along with fracking, too. I’ll explain them on Wednesday.

Sources
1. Frequently Asked Questions. Frac Focus.
2. “What is Fracking?” Frack Action.
How Fracking Wastewater Is Tied To Quakes.” Christopher Joyce. National Public Radio. Jan. 5, 2012.
3. “How Fracking Wastewater Is Tied To Quakes.” Christopher Joyce. National Public Radio. Jan. 5, 2012.

Photo credit
Christian Meyn/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Hilary Kimes Bernstein is a Christ follower, wife, mama, and journalist who blogs about making healthy decisions that honor God and happen to help the environment at Accidentally Green. She’s recently released her first eBook, First Bites: How To Instill Healthy Eating Habits During Your Baby's First Year.

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