Fracking or hydraulic fracturing

What is it and what’s wrong with it?

Hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” is a drilling method to obtain 'natural gas'.

According to the EPA, hydraulic fracturing is “a well stimulation process used to maximize the extraction of underground resources; including oil, natural gas, geothermal energy, and even water. The oil and gas industry uses hydraulic fracturing to enhance subsurface fracture systems to allow oil or natural gas to move more freely from the rock pores to production wells that bring the oil or gas to the surface.”

A hydraulic fracturing site in North Dakota (photo: porchlife, Flickr)

A hydraulic fracturing site in North Dakota (photo: porchlife, Flickr)

 In 2011, the EPA initiated a comprehensive study on the environmental and health risks associated with fracking. Periodic press releases detailing the findings of the "EPA Study of Hydraulic Fracturing and Its Potential Impacts on Drinking Water Resources" have revealed that fracking does indeed lead to groundwater contamination. The reality is stark: fracking is believed to cause earthquakes, groundwater contamination, adds to greenhouse gas pollution through releases of methane, releases uranium and radon radiation, and leads to serious air pollution from the emissions spewing from drilling and transportation equipment. The negative health effects that result from fracking are vast, and include respiratory problems like asthma, as well as infertility and cancer.

Combustible drinking water, brought to light by this scene from Josh Fox's 2010 film Gasland, is a phenomenon reported by several people living in close proximity to fracking operations. Tap water contaminated by highly flammable methane gas, which can seep into wells when disrupted by fracking wells, will ignite when exposed to a flame. 

Combustible drinking water, brought to light by this scene from Josh Fox's 2010 film Gasland, is a phenomenon reported by several people living in close proximity to fracking operations. Tap water contaminated by highly flammable methane gas, which can seep into wells when disrupted by fracking wells, will ignite when exposed to a flame. 

Gas companies argue that fracking will add thousands of jobs to impoverished communities, and that utilizing gas will reduce the need for the use of "dirtier" sources of energy, namely, oil and coal. Other fracking advocates in the U.S. argue that the industry will reduce the nation’s dependency on foreign oil. 

What’s being done?

 Josh Fox’s documentary Gasland (2010) first brought attention to the dangerous effects of fracking and Fox now has a loyal following. Fox continues his investigation of the corrupt oil and gas industry, illustrating the deleterious effects of fracking in his follow-up film, Gasland Part II (2013).

As a result of these films and many actions by Fox, Sandra Steingraber, Mark Ruffalo, and numerous environmental groups such as Food and Water Watch, Grassroots Environmental Education, New Yorkers Against Fracking, and hundreds of other groups and thousands of individuals, New York State fracking activism, in particular, has become one of the most successful environmental movements today. After years fighting fracking, New York State "fracktivists" won a major victory in December 2014, when Gov. Andrew Cuomo officially banned fracking in New York State. 

Dr. Sandra Steingraber, ecologist and writer, has long fought fracking, citing its myriad human and environmental health risks.

Dr. Sandra Steingraber, ecologist and writer, has long fought fracking, citing its myriad human and environmental health risks.