Why Everybody Should Be Concerned with Hydraulic Fracturing - Fracking

Earthquakes induced by humans can be very similar to natural ones including all the dangerous consequences. The highest human caused earthquake measured had a magnitude of 7.9. For instance in Oklahoma 100 of small earthquakes have been observed annually, in a region that has usually only little seismic activity. The reason for that is fracking – hydraulic fracturing, a technique to produce crude oil and natural gas that are later refined to all type of fuels. Most of the risks from fracking are local and people feel less concerned with matters that don’t impact them directly, which explains a certain global disinterest. However, there are issues with fracking that should concern everybody regardless of their geographical location.
Hydraulic Fractioning Pumps
Many of us have heard about fracking and associate it with something negative. To understand why we frack, we must first look to our insatiable appetite for fossil fuels. Fracking is used to produce crude oil and natural gas from wells that have been exploited with conventional drilling methods. In the early days of fossil fuel operations, producers had to find an underground oil and gas field and drill vertically into it. The pressure within the underground field causes the oil and gas to rise without requiring any additional machinery – that’s why you see in oil fountains in those old western movies.
The earth that holds those precious commodities is like a “sponge”. It is easy to get the oil out of the ground in regions where the well touches the sponge, however, areas that lay further away stay usually untapped. Fracking tries to reach those untapped areas. It starts with vertical drilling and after reaching a certain depth going over into a horizontal drilling. Yes, technology advancement made it possible to drill L-shaped holes. After completion, water and hazardous chemicals are pressed into the well to crack open oil-bearing formations. This is what makes the earth shake, as we break large areas apart deep in the underground to further extract natural resources. The induced pressure and chemicals then help to transport the oil and gas to the surface.
Local people suffer the most from fracking operations because they are directly exposed to the dangerous gases, such as nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from ground-level ozone. The consequences on people’s health can create respiratory problems (such as asthma attacks and other lung diseases) dysfunctions of the nervous system (dizziness, headaches to seizures and loss of consciousness), birth defects, blood disorders and even cancer. Studies show that the entire body can be affected including the heart, liver, kidney, endocrine system, immune system, reproductive organs, gastrointestinal organs and auditory systems. Children and infants – being in their development – suffer the most from those circumstances. Beyond local risks, people living in regions with fracturing activities are exposed to the same pollution in a milder form.
In addition to dangerous gases, each well produces vast amounts of toxic fluids, chemicals and naturally occurring radioactive material, liquid hydrocarbons, brine water and heavy metals that contaminate groundwater putting not only humans, but also wildlife at major risks. Flowback is the portion of fracking fluid that floats back to the surface with the oil and gas. The majority of the flowback is stored in disposal wells after extraction has been finished. However, a portion of the flowback stays on the surface, leading to contamination of surface streams.
You might say, “Why is this my concern, if I don’t live in an area with fracking operations?” Well, there is something you should be very concerned about, no matter where you live.
Oil and gas exploitation in combination with fracking releases large amounts of methane gases. Methane (CH4) is a main natural gas component and 25 times more potent in trapping heat in the atmosphere compared to carbon dioxide (CO2). A study ran by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) monitored gas wells in Weld County, Colorado – one of many fracking regions – and discovered that 4% of the methane produced is leaking into the atmosphere. That amount equals representatively carbon emission of 1-3 million cars. In conclusion, methane leakage from wells is much higher as expected further increasing the environmental impact as initially estimated. This is all happening right now and we should not forget that methane persists for about 12 years in our atmosphere until removed by natural chemical processes. With regards to the Paris agreement, this represents a very critical period requiring humanity to reach a turning point and keep global average temperature rise below 2°C. Compared to pre-industrial times, global methane emissions has risen from 722 parts per billion (ppb) to 1800 ppb by 2011.
So far, only the direct harms from the technique of fracking has been described. Approximately 90% of produced fossil fuels extracted will be burned. The combustion releases further carbon molecules into the atmosphere that were safely bound in a solid state deep underground. Although it is difficult to estimate, released carbon emission last 20-200 years in the atmosphere before they dissolve to 65 – 80% into the ocean. The remaining part is removed by slower processes requiring up to hundreds of thousands of years.
For oil and gas producers it has been easy to continue exploiting natural resources and hinder respectively delay the advancement of renewable energy sources. The wealth and power they have gained over a century from natural resources exploitation helps them today to hold their position and continue business as usual. All over the world, lobby groups undermine environmental policies to interfere with cleaner long term strategies that many scientists urge us to implement. Even if political leaders intend to change something for the better, they have difficulty protecting their own agenda even within their own rows. Too many politicians act out of self-interest, lured by generous benefits that favour standards promoted by lobbyist groups.
Most surprising of all, citizens even vote for public representatives that officially claim to scrap environmental rules to allegedly benefit the majority. Those are very complex circumstances and if environmentally conscious people can do something today, then it is to educate and create awareness. It will be the general public that needs to further increase the pressure on corrupt individuals and agency to move forward and act in favor of the majority instead of a wealthy minority.
The impact of fracking on our environment is disastrous during a time when so many better renewable energy solutions are available for large scale implementation. Governments and highly lobbied environmental agencies protect the fossil fuels industry instead of promoting solutions that would benefit everybody in the long term – a healthy and sustainable planet. The sometimes paralyzed state of our society can be very frustrating to watch. However, we should not give in and fight for the right thing – protecting our environment and our future. Keep in mind, sustainability comes from everyone’s daily choices.


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