Are You Fracking Serious?

Author: Travis Leipzig

Over the course of this week, there have been a few very interesting but very alarming articles written about one of the energy industry's newest grooves--Hydrofracking. I don't have much to add to these articles, I just wanted to share some of their more noteworthy parts with all of you in the chance that you haven't yet read them.

In a post on High Country News, author Sierra Crane-Murdoch exposes a list of chemicals used by Encana Corporation in their Fracking projects in Wyoming.

In reference to this graph of the health effects of the hydro fracking chemicals, Crane-Murdoch wrote:

Meet the Master Well Formula -- the chemical cocktail that Encana Corp. will use to hydraulically fracture every natural gas well it drills in Wyoming's Jonah Field. Drillers mix 11,800 gallons of this solution with over a million gallons of water and a heavy dose of sand, inject it underground to release gas deposits, and collect the fuel as it spouts to the surface. Thirty to 70 percent of the solution re-emerges with "produced" water and is trucked off to evaporation pits. The rest lingers underground.

Chemical lists like this one weren't publicly available until September 2010, when Wyoming adopted an unprecedented rule requiring companies to publicly disclose them amid rising concern about fracking's potential health effects. But a loophole in the law still allows companies to hide recipes by applying for "trade secret status" -- something the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has granted for about 70 fracking products. The public may know more than before, but not quite enough to understand the full range of hazards.

As you can see, there are at least 5 ingredients included in this 'chemical cocktail' which are known to be linked to causing cancer, 13 which are known to be linked to problems with the brain and nervous system, 6 which are known to affect the reproductive system, and all of the ingredients--with the exception of three in which data are not available--are known to be linked to respiratory, skin, eye and sensory organ problems. Not a mixture of contaminants I'd like to have mixing with my water supply.

In another post on one of my personal favorite blogs, Ecocentric, author Kyle Rabin summarizes some quite startling figures presented in a New York Times article on the lax regulations for hydrofracking:

Numbers from Across the Country:


EXCERPT: There were more than 493,000 active natural-gas wells in the United States in 2009, almost double the number in 1990. Around 90 percent have used hydrofracking to get more gas flowing, according to the drilling industry.


EXCERPT: Gas has seeped into underground drinking-water supplies in at least five states, including Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and West Virginia, and residents blamed natural-gas drilling.

10 to 40

EXCERPT: Anywhere from 10 percent to 40 percent of the water sent down the well during hydrofracking returns to the surface, carrying drilling chemicals, very high levels of salts and, at times, naturally occurring radioactive material.


EXCERPT: At least 12 sewage treatment plants in three states accepted gas industry wastewater and discharged waste that was only partly treated into rivers, lakes and streams.

Numbers from Pennsylvania:


EXCERPT: Drilling companies were issued roughly 3,300 Marcellus gas-well permits in Pennsylvania last year, up from just 117 in 2007.

1.3 billion

EXCERPT: More than 1.3 billion gallons of wastewater was [sic] produced by Pennsylvania wells over the past three years, far more than has been previously disclosed. Most of this water — enough to cover Manhattan in three inches — was sent to treatment plants not equipped to remove many of the toxic materials in drilling waste.


EXCERPT: The risks are particularly severe in Pennsylvania, which has seen a sharp increase in drilling, with roughly 71,000 active gas wells, up from about 36,000 in 2000.


EXCERPT: In Pennsylvania, these treatment plants discharged waste into some of the state’s major river basins. Greater amounts of the wastewater went to the Monongahela River, which provides drinking water to more than 800,000 people in the western part of the state, including Pittsburgh, and to the Susquehanna River, which feeds into Chesapeake Bay and provides drinking water to more than six million people, including some in Harrisburg and Baltimore.

15 million

EXCERPT: Lower amounts have been discharged into the Delaware River, which provides drinking water for more than 15 million people in Philadelphia and eastern Pennsylvania.


EXCERPT: But even with recycling, the amount of wastewater produced in Pennsylvania is expected to increase because, according to industry projections, more than 50,000 new wells are likely to be drilled over the next two decades.

Hundreds or even thousands

EXCERPT: The level of radioactivity in the wastewater has sometimes been hundreds or even thousands of times the maximum allowed by the federal standard for drinking water.

100 and 1,000

EXCERPT: Of more than 179 wells producing wastewater with high levels of radiation, at least 116 reported levels of radium or other radioactive materials 100 times as high as the levels set by federal drinking-water standards. At least 15 wells produced wastewater carrying more than 1,000 times the amount of radioactive elements considered acceptable.


EXCERPT: And in 2009 and 2010, public sewage treatment plants directly upstream from some of these drinking-water intake facilities accepted wastewater that contained radioactivity levels as high as 2,122 times the drinking-water standard.

These figures are extremely frightening to me, especially as hydrolfracking seems to be being looked at as the new 'clean' source of energy viable to replace our long outdated reliance on coal. As I have written here before, we need to redefine the term 'clean energy' to include more than simply low carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions. Electricity production's effects on water supplies, be it water quality or quantity, absolutely need to be incorporated into the equation for clean energy.

It seems as if there is

It seems as if there is something wrong with anything that we try to do. I am sure that soon, there will be something wrong with wind and solar. Everyone should get free solar power, that way this problem is solved.

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Re: It seems as if there is...

Well, I suppose you could potentially be correct. Perhaps in the future a study could come out indicating that a specific material or processes used to manufacture/install wind turbines or photovoltaic solar panels (manufacture/installation being the only time in the energy production lifecycle using these technologies in which water is used/diverted or air could be contaminated, as once turbines or panels are installed the only use of water is for washing purposes and there are no processes involved in which carbon or other greenhouse gases can be emitted) may in fact cause harm to water resources or contribute to air pollution. However there is currently no such study. What has been proven (and very thoroughly so) is that wind and photovoltaic solar power technologies have the least (and by a very significant amount) impact on water resources and air quality. This is why we promote such technologies.

It would be great for everyone to receive free solar power, however the technology is still a costly one to manufacture/install in comparison to the monstrously massive industry provided (and massive federally subsidized) inexpensive dirty energy (coal, gas and oil), making a widespread switch to the (well researched) clean energy technologies a difficult one. Once federal and state funding incentives for the development of lower cost clean energy technologies is made much more readily available (such has been done for the natural gas industry in the last couple years), hopefully then we can provide inexpensive access to highly water and greenhouse gas efficient electricity.

In response to your idea that free solar power will solve all the problems; yes the widespread use of solar power will greatly reduce the effects of electricity production on water and air quality, but by god I hope to never see a day when electricity is publicly provided free of charge. Devaluing (providing inexpensively or free of charge) the necessities of life such as water and electricity will cause resource gluttony (if you will) that will completely counteract the water/energy conversational measures we have taken thus far. From the consumer prospective, of course we want our life necessities such as water and energy to be as inexpensive as possible. But from an environmental, logical, managerial and practical standpoint, we cannot and should not ever devalue our most precious recourses such as water and energy to the point that people use them carelessly and wastefully.

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