Tricounty News

Hydraulic Fracturing: What is it?


Hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, was first developed in the U.S. after World War II. Since then, this method has become more developed and has grown to be a popular practice of extracting natural gas from the earth. While there are many benefits to using this method, people also need to be aware of the negative impact on the environment and on human health.

The process of fracking begins by drilling into the earth a few thousand feet into the dense shale bed and inserting explosives. A pipe is then inserted where a mixture of hazardous chemicals and water is pumped into the shale bed. This pressurizes the natural gas out of the gas pockets found in the shale and up the pipe.

The most popular area of fracking is the Marcellus Shale area that extends from New York, Pennsylvania and down to West Virginia. Yet nearly two thirds of the U.S. has hydraulic fracturing taking place.

Fracking has many opportunities attributed to it, such as creating jobs and boosting a town’s economy. On a larger scale, it also helps in making the U.S. less dependent on foreign oil. While there are many benefits, there are also many consequences to this form of extracting natural gas.

According to a Link TV-Earth Focus documentary in 2011, the
1 percent of chemicals used in each well contains 5,000 chemicals. While this may not seem like much, there are thousands of wells in the U.S., each with this high number of chemicals. Some of these chemicals used include arsenic, mercury, and hydrogen sulfide, all of which are toxic to people. Link TV also states that “Natural gas burns cleaner than any other fossil fuel, but it is not cleaner in its life cycle.” This is mainly because of the large amounts of methane, as well as other chemicals released in the fracking process.


From the article “Land Facts” published by the Natural Resource Defense Council in 2007,
citizens near areas of fracking have already shown negative health effects such as tumors, respiratory illness, and birth defects. The water supply for people living near gas fields can become so contaminated that they are able to light their water on fire. People near the drilling areas have also felt earthquakes as a result from fracking.


One reason that fracking is so harmful is because a lot of the practice is unregulated. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 did not force companies to share with the public what chemicals they were using in the process of fracking. According to the article “Hydraulic Fracturing & Shale Gas” from the EarthTimes, the drilling companies are exempt from the Safe Water Drinking Act because of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The Environmental Protection Agency investigated 150,000 injection wells and out of those, 17,000 violated regulations of proper waste disposal. Currently the EPA is investigating fracking and how it can affect the water supply.