Fracking 101

Text by Chenango Delaware Otsego Gas Opposition Group & Energy Justice Network

Hydraulic Fracturing

Hydraulic fracturing is a natural gas extraction process by which water, usually mixed with highly toxic chemicals, is forced down a drilled well at extremely high pressure to create or expand fractures, releasing gas trapped in rock formations. Proponents (small particles such as sand or synthetic beads) hold open the newly-created fractures so that released gas can flow toward the well. The process is also known as fracking or hydrofracking.

When drilling for gas in geologic formations where the gas is tightly bound in rock (“low-permeability gas reservoirs”), hydraulic fracturing is used in combination with horizontal drilling, in which the drill bit is gradually turned sideways to penetrate long distances away from the vertical well bore (hole). Because of the very large quantities of water and pressure needed for this process, it is called horizontal drilling / high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or HD/HVHF.

HD/HVHF is an industrial activity and the areas where it is used become polluted industrial zones. Rural areas are often exploited, but suburban and urban areas are increasingly subjected to an invasion of heavy equipment and dangerous activities.

Water

HD/HVHF gas wells can require anywhere from 1 to 9 million gallons of water per “frack.” Wells have to be re- fracked approximately every 5 years to restimulate production. Such high water use creates issues such as where to obtain it, traffic and pollution from getting hundreds of heavy truckloads of water to the drill site, deliberate contamination of the water, and trucking all of the wastewater away to be disposed of somewhere. Wastewater must be stored onsite at least temporarily, leading to repeated problems with leaks and overflow during heavy rains. Additionally, ancient “formation water” may be released in the well completion process. This ‘brine’ is typically far saltier than seawater and presents serious disposal issues. Spills and other unintended releases are inevitable industrial accidents. Clandestine dumping is widely suspected and has been reported.

Chemicals & Sand

The chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing are known to cause a wide variety of health problems. Increasingly, reports from affected areas indicate a prevalence of serious and incurable disorders in people and animals living near natural gas extraction or transmission facilities (pipelines and compressor stations). Even the special sand used as a proppant has a destructive effect on the communities where it is mined.

Regulation

Over decades, the oil and gas industry has lobbied for and gotten exemptions from a wide array of federal laws, including laws requiring environmental impact statements, laws regulating hazardous waste and toxic site cleanup, laws requiring reporting of toxic emissions and laws to protect the air and drinking water. The industry lobbies to keep nearly all regulation at the state rather than federal level, saying that the states do a good job of regulating. The evidence strongly suggests otherwise.