The United States relies heavily on oil and natural gas to maintain its standard of living, but accessing these resources is growing more difficult. The nation’s resources are being consumed much faster than they are being replenished, so oil and gas drillers are having to resort to potentially unsafe practices to meet demands.
One of these practices that has gotten a lot of negative attention is hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. When oil or gas is being drawn from the ground, it is usually extracted from porous rocks, but at deeper depths the rocks aren’t as porous, so liquids can only be drawn from it slowly. This slow rate of extraction isn’t profitable to oil drillers, so they opt for induced hydraulic fracturing. This process creates fractures, or cracks, in the oil and natural gas containing rocks, and speeds up the extraction process. This may seem like a no-brainer for drilling companies, but there are unanticipated side effects that can contaminate your water well or other local water source.
Water wells that are located near drilling areas have been found to have increased concentrations of methane. Methane contamination is always a concern in water well drilling, but the levels found near fracking sites clearly indicate that the fracking process is contributing to the problem. Methane buildups in wells can lead to dangerous explosions that cause a lot of damage.
Even more dangerous than methane contamination is the possible chemical contamination of groundwater. While fracking fluid is about 98% water, the chemicals found in the other 2 percent include many known and possible carcinogens. For example, fracking fluid contains the chemical benzene, which causes cancer and bone marrow failure. It also contains lead, which damages the nervous system and has been the focus of environmental regulations. These regulations eliminated the use of lead in paint as well as gasoline and water systems, so it is a bit of a puzzler as to why it is being used in a process that extracts gasoline and can contaminate water systems.
These negative effects of water well drilling and other water systems clearly indicates that we need to take a closer look at what hydraulic fracturing does and how it will affect our future. Having clean, drinkable water might be something taken for granted in the United States, but if this disregard for clean water continues it might be a luxury we no longer have.