Prior to discussing the impact of fracking, one should know what fracking is.
Fracking is a short form of the term hydraulic fracturing. Hydraulic fracturing is a type of drilling that is done to extract oil and natural gas from the rocks inside the earth.
Hydraulic fracturing involves drilling of a vertical hole for more than a mile’s length below the surface of the earth which then gradually moves horizontally for several thousand feet more so as to connect more than one oil well with a single pipeline.
Once the wells are drilled, small perforations are made on the horizontal stretch and a mixture of water (about 90%), sand (9.5%) and additives (0.5%) is pumped at extremely high pressure which creates micro-fractures in the rocks that are held open by the grains of sand. The use of additives is to reduce the friction as well as to prevent erosion of the pipes which in turn protects the environment and boosts well efficiency.
This enables tapping of oil and gas reserves previously locked away in shale and rock formations. This also simulates new production from old wells.
What are the ill effects of fracking?
Fracking has its environmental impact as well as geographical impact.
a) Contamination of ground water: Chemicals are used in drilling mud, slurries and fluids which are required for the fracking process. Toxic fluid is produced by each well which contain harmful chemicals as well as radioactive materials. Fracking can create fissures through which the contaminated gases pas through. This results in soil as well as ground water contamination.
b) Methane pollution which can cause climatic changes: On account of this hydraulic drilling methane gas escapes into the atmosphere which has a capacity of depleting the ozone layer and cause climatic changes all over the world.
c) Air pollution: The emission of methane is equal to carbon emissions of about 3 million cars. So, consider the amount of air pollution.
d) Exposure to poisonous chemicals: Pollutants released by drilling include benzene, toluene, particulate matter, nitrogen oxides etc which can cause dangerous ailments such as cancers, nervous damages and birth defects in addition to death.
e) Radioactivity: Hydraulic fracking involves injections of radioactive material into the pipelines. This radioactive waste is disposed off usually in Class II wells but it has been seen that much of the waste radioactive water is processed by sewage treatment plants which being unable to remove the radioactive material discharges it in the rivers and thus contaminating them.
f) Waste Disposal: Flow back is a portion of the injection fracturing fluid that flows back to the surface along with the oil and natural gas. This is a wastage item which has to be disposed off in specific Class II wells dug for this purpose. About 10% of this disposal lands up for recycling or gets discharged into surface streams causing water pollution.
g) Water wastage: Enormous amounts of water are used in fracking and the consequences have been now observed where many farmers in North America have complained of droughts due to heavy wastage of precious water.
h) Seismicity: Hydraulic fracturing produces micro seismic events which have now been reported to be on the increase. This process tends to damage the tectonic plates which can one day result in some huge earthquake somewhere in the world.
i) Infrastructure degradation: This process requires transportation of large amounts of water, chemicals and other materials. Large tankers are used for this purpose which can cause infrastructure damages to roads and bridges on the way.
Thus it can be seen that the impact of fracking is much more than the benefit it can generate.