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Hydraulic fracturing (also known as “hydrofracking” or “fracking”) involves drilling vertically and then horizontally into the earth to create a wide, deep well into underground rock layers. The operators then shoot five to nine million gallons of water, propping agents (usually sand), and up to six hundred chemicals—including known carcinogens; forever chemicals; and toxins such as lead, uranium, mercury, formaldehyde and radium chemicals—into the ground to fracture the rock formations and force out natural gas and oil. When the high-pressure water fractures the underground rock, these chemicals are forced into the earth. The refuse from this process is then removed from the site and either stored at an off-site location or injected into a deep well.

Fracking is a common and lucrative way to extract fossil fuels–as of 2014, there were more than a million active fracking wells in the United States distributed throughout 35 states. But fracking is also destructive. Fracking can cause earthquakes, as well as pose a danger to public health (see below) Some of the decaying material in the rock is radioactive and can become dangerous in large quantities, such as when it is in fracking. waste.

Fracking companies often target low-income communities, Indigenous communities and communities of color because the residents often do not have the proper resources to recognize their rights, publicize their rights, or find support from legal representation and government entities.

Fracking Is a Public Health Issue

Fracking has been linked to increases in heart attacks, asthma, migraines, depression, reproductive risks, and infant mortality, among other effects.

There have been more than a thousand documented cases of neurological, respiratory and sensory damage due to exposure to fracking wastewater.


A fracking facility in Pennsylvania (credit: Northwestern)

Fracking Waste

Fracking wastewater, which is brought to the surface after drilling and fracking a well, contains potentially harmful levels of dangerous contaminants, including heavy metals, carcinogens, and radioactive materials. Each fracking well produces millions of gallons of wastewater and hundreds of tons of drill cuttings, which contain contaminants that pose serious risks to human health. These include known carcinogens such as benzene, toxic metals such as mercury, and radioactive materials.

Over the years, weak regulations have allowed oil and gas companies to handle, store, and dispose of fracking waste in a number of troublesome ways. These include spraying fracking waste fluids onto roads and land near where people live and work; disposing of billions of gallons of oil and gas wastewater in underground injection wells; sending the drill cuttings and fracking sands to landfills not designed to handle toxic or radioactive materials; and storing and disposing of wastewater in pits and ponds, which often leak. In Ohio in 2009, a storage of millions of barrels of wastewater resulted in earthquakes—one well alone is linked to 77 earthquakes. In Pennsylvania, a six-million-gallon industrial pond holding fracking wastewater leaked pollutants, including arsenic and strontium, into groundwater and a nearby trout stream. Fracking wastewater is also used in some consumer products, including AquaSalina, a road deicer, and Clorox Pool Salt.

Some people who have worked with fracking waste, including truckers and HAZMAT technicians have become whistleblowers, sharing their concerns about the radioactive waste they were exposed to.

What Is CHEJ Doing?

CHEJ has been working for many years with families, schools and small organizations all over the U.S. that are fighting against the effects of fracking. Our No Fracking Ohio Campaign has won many victories, including the introduction of Senate Bill 78, which banned fracking for both oil and natural gas underneath Lake Erie. In New York, a huge grassroots effort we have extensively supported led to a ban on hydrofracking. CHEJ supported campaigns in Maryland and North Carolina that have had similar impacts.

Additionally, CHEJ was involved when the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal, an international human rights court, held hearings on the impacts of fracking and climate change on human and Earth rights. Ultimately, the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal recommended a fracking ban.

CHEJ has also initiated the Campaign to Prevent Fracking Harms, a cross-country effort that highlights the consequences of fracking, brings attention and media to local groups currently organizing against fracking, and promotes the transition to clean, renewable energy sources. This initiative is a two-part solution—part one is the end of the fracking and part two is the switch to renewable energy. Some groups work with us solely on part one, others focus on part two, and many combine both.

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