Fracking is a process of oil and natural gas extraction that involves pumping huge amounts of chemical-laden water (2 million gallons over the life cycle of a typical well), at high pressures, deep into the earth to “hydraulically fracture,” or frack, subterranean shale formations to release the oil/gas within. The chemicals in the water could be almost anything (they do not have to be disclosed, because they are “trade secrets”), in almost any concentration or combination, and many of them are known to cause cancer. There is no way for citizens to find out which chemicals are used at which wells, except for an industry-run website which companies can use voluntarily (with no requirement that information be complete), and which only lists about one in 10 fracked wells in the country.
The process is not only incredibly water-intensive, it also pollutes groundwater with fracking chemicals and the very methane it’s trying to harvest. This is why residents in some thoroughly fracked parts of the US can light their tap water on fire. Plus, fracked wells are exempt from certain parts of the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts–a privilege not extended to most other economic activities, and definitely not to small-scale businesses, farmers and ranchers.
In Kern County (ground zero for fracking in California), several farmers have lost their ability to use their groundwater for irrigation. Which pretty much means they have lost their farms. Some farmers have seen their orchards die after the aquifers were contaminated with chloride and various other toxins. Also, farmers who don’t own their mineral rights have no say over whether fracking occurs on their land. You could have a gas well in your pasture whether you want it or not. Tehama County does have significant hydrocarbon resources, so the time to act is now. Please sign this petition.
There are substitutes for oil and natural gas, but there’s no substitute for clean groundwater.
A team of scientists claims that non-carbon fuels could completely replace fossil fuels by 2050, and the California report shows that using about 4.4% of California’s land area for wind, solar and geothermal electricity generation would provide all of the state’s non-transportation energy needs. If this is true, while it does not meet our definition of a sustainable way to live, it is at bare minimum a wise counter-argument to those who believe that fracking and other extreme forms of energy extraction provide fuels that can’t be replaced any other way. There actually are less-destructive alternatives.
But still, in my opinion, a culture that chooses to live wastefully, generating tons of toxic and unnecessary products every day, should have no claim to any destructive form of energy, and that includes solar, wind, geothermal, tidal, etc. The only viable solution is to power down and undergo a global paradigm shift that eliminates capitalism and infinite growth economies. Since that won’t happen by choice, the least we could do is eliminate the worst forms of energy production.
Here are the eight primary biological reasons fracking cannot be done safely:
1. Smog and air pollution – there are volatile organic compounds released in the drilling process, creating a toxic smog. It is a known fact that smog kills people.
2. Water is permanently toxified – it can never be drinkable again.
3. The waste byproducts can never be benign.
4. Cement casings fail – According to the industry itself, 6% of all wells fail immediately, and about 50% fail within 30 years. (See this documentary, 8:30 into the film).
5. Shale is a living ecosystem – Application of toxic chemicals into the subterranean rock and shale layers is another form of pesticide application, in this case the targets are bacteria, fungus and archaea, whose combined mass very likely outweigh all life on the surface of the Earth. This community of life, being so massive, likely serves a critical role to the ecosystem functions of the planet, but science is just starting to explore this unknown relationship.
6. Earthquakes – fracturing the rock below the ground anywhere near a fault is proven to increase the likelihood of earthqakes.
7. Light and noise pollution – these alone contribute to illnesses and lack of sleep for many residents near frack sites.
8. Food contamination – any food produced near a frack site is at risk of absorption of toxic chemicals or radiation or both. Dairy cattle and the milk they produce are particularly susceptible.