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OWOE - Oil And Gas - What is the impact of fracking on the environment?
What is the impact of fracking on the environment?
Topic updated: 2015-09-01

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, requires large amounts of water to be pumped into the well to release trapped oil and gas. On average this is about 2 million gallons per well, which equates to a large quantity of a vital resource that is in very short supply in some parts of the country. There have been attempts going back to the 1990s to replace water as the main fluid used for fracking, particularly with carbon dioxide. More recently, several companies are testing products and techniques that appear very promising in the laboratory and in field tests. Some experts believe that CO2 fracking could actually be more effective than water because the water that remains in the formation actually blocks oil and gas flow.

In addition to scarcity of water, the chemicals used to treat the water can make their way into ground water sources. There have been a number of high profile situations in which ground water was contaminated by fracking fluid, with the largest being the North Dakota spill in January 2015. Typically, such spills are due to errors in handling the fluid, rather than well failures or fundamental issues with fracking technology. In June 2015 the EPA issued their report on a 4-year study of the effect of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources. They concluded that although there are above and below ground mechanisms by which hydraulic fracturing activities have the potential to impact drinking water resources, they could not find evidence that these mechanisms have led to widespread, systemic impacts on those resources.

Another byproduct of fracking, methane gas, which often escapes from the well, can leak into the atmosphere. Methane accounts for 9 percent of U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions and approximately 30% of that, and the biggest contributor, is the oil and gas industry.

A final environmental concern is the cause-and-effect relationship between fracking and earthquakes. A number of locations with ongoing fracking activities, including Texas, Oklahome, and Ohio, have experienced series of small earthquakes, generally below magnitude 3.0. A study lby the Ohio Department of Natural Resources on the March 2014 series of earthquakes in Poland Township, Ohio concluded that the earthquakes were due to hydraulic fracturing that activated a previously unknown fault. Although there are some who dispute such findings, most experts feel that fracking can trigger earthquakes; however, such earthquakes tend to be quite small and cause little to no damage.

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