Fracking Paranoia   2 comments

Hydraulic fracturing has been around for more than 60 years. Despite that length of time, fracking has received much negative attention due to misreporting and dramatic exaggerations. Much of the public’s concern over hydraulic fracturing has been over the possibility of contaminated drinking water, the chemicals used in fracking, the potential to create earthquakes, and waste-water management. Such concerns do not take into account the federal and state laws and regulations that address these very issues. So, let’s look at the myths and the facts.

Myth #1: Hydraulic fracturing threatens underground water sources and has led to the contamination of drinking water.

FACT: Hydraulic fracturing is subject to both federal and state regulations. There have been NO instances of fracking causing contamination of drinking water.

Groundwater aquifers sit thousands of feet above the level at which fracking takes place, and companies construct wells with steel-surface casings and cement barriers to prevent gas migration. Studies by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Groundwater Protection Council, and independent agencies have found no evidence of groundwater contamination. In May 2011, then-EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson stated before the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that “I am not aware of any proven case where the fracking process itself affected water although there are investigations ongoing.” Three of those investigations are in Texas, Wyoming, and Pennsylvania, and thus far the EPA has found no evidence of contamination.

Although previous EPA analysis of hydraulic fracturing found the process to be safe, the EPA has announced plans to publish a full study that demonstrates a lack of safety. The non-profit technology research and development organization Battell analyzed the EPA’s “Plan to Study the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing on Drinking Water Resources” and highlighted concerns, including cherry-picked data, lack of peer review, poor quality control, and a lack of transparency.  Wow, I’m so surprised that the EPA is involved in this. Aren’t you?

Myth #2: The chemicals used in the fracking process are foreign chemicals that industry hides from the public.

FACT: Fracking fluid, which is primarily sand and water, uses a small percentage of chemicasl that have common household applications and are regulated by the states and federal government.

The fluid used in hydraulic fracturing is 99.5 percent water and sand. The 0.5 percent of additives (typically between three and 12 different chemicals) depends on the composition of the shale formation that varies by region and by well. The combination of additives function to dissolve minerals, prevent bacteria growth and pipe corrosion, minimize friction, and keep the fractures open or propped up. All chemicals used in the fracking process have common applications from swimming-pool cleaners and laundry detergents to cosmetics, and even ice cream (that one is polypropolene glycol which is also used as an anti-freeze agent in home heating distribution pipes). None of these chemicals is hidden from the public, and federal law stipulates that a company must provide detailed chemical information sheets (MSDS) to emergency personnel in case of an accident. While states that have hydraulic fracturing laws have their own stipulations for chemical disclosure, the U.S. Department of Energy, in collaboration with the Groundwater Protection Council and industry, created the website  The site provides a full list of chemicals used in the fracking process and companies voluntarily disclose the chemical makeup for specific wells across the country. FracFocus allows users to search wells by operator, state, and county.

Myth #3: Waste-water from hydraulic fracturing is dangerous and unregulated.

FACT: Companies mostly recycle the “waste” from hydraulic fracturing, but they also dispose of waste-water using many different methods, all of which are compliant with existing federal and state laws.

Companies typically use around 4 million gallons of water to fracture a well. That’s about what a golf course in Texas uses in a week. I’m not saying the Texas golf courses aren’t wasting water. It’s just a comparison, since millions of gallons is hard to envision. Fracking companies use water from lakes, rivers, or municipal supplies. Much of that water remains in the ground; about 15-20% of the water returns to the surface by flowing back through the well head. The flowback water contains the chemicals used in the fracking process and can also collect other naturally harmful substances in the ground. This water is never used for drinking and the disposal is subject to federal and state regulations. States have different regulations for disposal, and companies employ a variety of methods including temporary storage of waste-water in steel tanks or contained pits. More companies are recycling or reusing the flowback water because it makes both economic and environmental sense. Other disposal methods include storing waste-water underground in injection wells that states regulate individually, and the EPA regulates under the Safe Water Drinking Act. The demand for waste-water disposal and recycling is creating opportunities for new companies with emerging technologies to treat waste-water.

There have been concerns that treating waste-water at sewage treatment plants that discharge into rivers supplying drinking water would contaminate drinking water with radioactive material. Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection found levels of radioactivity well within federal and state standards. Norm Zellers, manager of the Sunbury Generation treatment facility in Synder County, Pennsylvania, emphasized that “[y]ou can have more radioactivity on a bunch of bananas in the store or on a granite countertop.” Waste-water management is another aspect of the fracking process that has been well regulated by existing federal and state laws, and the increased demand for waste-water treatment has driven the process to be cleaner and cheaper.

Myth #4: Fracking causes earthquakes.

FACT: The fracking process itself does not cause earthquakes. In rare instances, the use of underground injection wells has caused tremors. Induced seismic activity from underground energy activities is not a new phenomenon and has been closely monitored by the Department of Energy.

After a series of small earthquakes that range from 2.1 to 4.0 on the Richter scale in Ohio and Arkansas near oil and gas sites, many have raised concerns about future tremors resulting from hydraulic fracturing, but the fracking process itself did not cause these earthquakes. The use of injection wells, an efficient and cost-effective way to dispose of briny waste-water, produced the seismic activity. Instances of seismic activity are rare; out of 30,000 injection wells, there have only been eight events of induced seismic activity—none of which caused significant property damage or injury. Fairbanks Alaska experiences between 50-100 earthquakes a WEEK in that range. Most of us hardly notice a quake of less than Magnitude 4. Induced seismicity does not occur only from oil and gas extraction. A recent National Research Council study highlights the fact that geothermal activities (capturing and using heat stored in the earth’s core) have caused relatively small earthquakes (some felt, some not) at more frequent rates from far fewer projects. The study also warns that continuously injecting carbon dioxide at high pressures (carbon capture and sequestration from coal plants) could induce earthquakes of higher magnitudes.

Seismic activity as a result of underground activity is also not a new phenomenon. The U.S. Department of Energy has been observing and monitoring induced seismic activity from energy-related activities since the 1930s. While companies that induce seismic activity should be liable for any damage they cause, calls for bans of hydraulic fracturing or the use of underground injection wells are unfounded.

So, despite the paranoia in some sectors of the population concerning hydraulic fracturing, there is really no more risk associated with the process than there is with any other resource-extraction process.



2 responses to “Fracking Paranoia

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  1. Where’s the logic in using our own natural resources? It’s far more logical to invade a foreign land (under the guise of fighting terrorists) and acquire their natural resources.


    • Uh-huh? If you’re serious, we’ll have to agree to disagree. That approach has cost the United States an awful lot of tax-payer treasure and often put Americans in harm’s way unnecessarily.


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