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Fracking Part 1: Background and Water Contamination

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a way of getting natural gas, an energy source, from underground stores. Fracking wells can be built anywhere where there is natural gas to be taken, from barren deserts to a few hundred feet from your backyard. To get the natural gas, a hole is drilled 2,500-3,000 meters down, and then 1.5 kilometers horizontally through the shale rock formation. Then they send a specialized perforating gun through the tube that makes little one-inch cracks in the rock. Later, fracking fluid is shot down the well at a pressure so high that it cracks the shale rock, releasing the rock bed’s gases and oils. This fracking fluid has horrible, dangerous chemicals as well as tons of water. The fracking process uses around 3-6 million gallons of precious water per well.

There are many terrible side affects of fracking, including the contamination of local water supplies. All across the country fracking wells have been put in place and the water in nearby houses has been ruined. Fracking wells have a concrete casing so the natural gas and the fracking fluid do not escape, but the concrete fails very often. Studies by the gas industries themselves have explained concrete failures. A document from Southwestern energy showed how the cement can break and the harmful chemicals can leak into aquifers. A Schlumberger document published in 2003 shows that cement failure happens at alarming rates. Their own documents state that the cement casings failed immediately upon drilling in 5% of wells and that the failure rate increased over time. That over a 30 year period, 50% of cement casings failed. A report from Archer, a well services company, was leaked out of a gas industry conference. The repots shows astounding rates of leakage in the North Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, and enormous rates of what they call uncontrolled discharge. A PowerPoint slide from the Society of Petroleum Engineers shows that there are 1.8 million wells in the world and 35% of them are leaking. That is an old study, so the amount of both wells and leaking wells has gone up since then. According to the Independent Petroleum Association of America, there are now 1.7 million wells in the United States alone, many of which are leaking. This is not even the only way aquifers can be contaminated by fracking.

Another way water supplies are contaminated in through the dumping of flow-back liquids. Flow-back liquids are the fracking fluids that come back up the well with the natural gas. These can contain contaminants like radioactive materials, salts, heavy metals, and hydrocarbons. These liquids have to be stored very well, but some storage facilities can break down. There is also evidence of some companies illegally dumping the fluid, which directly enters and contaminates the water.

These flaws ruin the tap water of local residents, making the water unusable and even flammable! The big gas companies have tried to cover up their mistakes, but there is too much evidence against them. There are many other flaws in the fracking process that I will write about another day, so stay tuned and keep helping our planet.

This is the tap water from Dimock, PA in 2010, where the fracking wells have contaminated the water.

I highly recommend watching Gasland and Gasland 2, which are great documentaries about fracking. You should also watch this video:

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