Does fracking really have the potential to contaminate our country’s drinking water supply? Can a process that occurs thousands of feet below the surface really affect it? The gas and oil industry has spent millions and millions of dollars to convince regulators and the American public that fracking is safer than a Volvo. And although their millions have largely succeeded in raising debate on the issue, it only takes some common sense to see how drinking water can be contaminated by this process. Here are only a few (of the probably thousands) of the ways in which drinking water contamination may happen:
- 1. Fracking Fluid: Fracking fluid is a toxic soup of different chemicals that together act to prime and dissolve the shale, as well as force gas/oil towards the surface. Oil and gas companies have kept the exact contents of the fracking fluid they use a secret, claiming that it is confidential business information. However, a new ruling in the state of California has pushed companies to reveal over 200 distinct chemicals used in fracking fluids. Many of these chemicals are known carcinogens and neurotoxins such as toluene and formaldehyde. Workers can easily be exposed to these chemicals and communities surrounding drilling sites are at risk from accidental spills.
- Drilling: Fracking pipelines dig down to depths of over 10,000 ft. belowground. All throughout, they are encased by rings of cement or other similar materials to prevent chemicals from seeping into the drill-hole’s surrounding. How the heck can you fully encase a 10,000-foot hole that is barely a foot in diameter in cement? It’s like inserting a 10-foot paper straw into beach sand and expecting it not to break along the way. The simple logistics of it mean that there are bound to be cracks and other imperfections that will inevitably allow fracking fluid and collected gases to leech out into the surroundings. In fact, a study published by experts from Duke, Stanford, Dartmouth and the University of Rochester found direct evidence that linked groundwater contamination to faulty casings in gas wells. Other reports estimate that between 5-7% of new gas wells leak due to structural deficiencies, and that number skyrockets to 30-50% as they age.
- Wastewater: Wastewater, or “produced water” as the industry calls it, is the byproduct of fracking. It contains the mix of chemicals found in fracking fluid as well as other naturally occurring contaminants from groundwater that are washed out of the fracked shale. This wastewater is then either re-injected into the ground to help force more oil to the surface, heated to make steam and injected to soften heavy oil deposits, stored in surface reservoirs, or most of it is injected underground. Here is where it does it’s damage. Trucks carrying wastewater oftentimes leak it out as they transport it, storage ponds are notoriously porous and injection wells suffer from the same structural problems as gas wells. In short, wastewater will likely find it’s way out and into our groundwater reserves.
There are many, many more ways in which groundwater may be contaminated by fracking. The vast amounts of money spent by industry have led some people to believe the lie that it is a safe and clean technology, but we only need to use our common sense to see just how it can take away one of our most prized resources.