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Is Oil Fracking Environmentally Dangerous?

Is Oil Fracking Environmentally Dangerous?
By Marvin Pirila


The process of fracking creates fractures that extend from wells into oil and gas formations by pumping highly pressurized fluid--water, sand, ceramic beads, and a mixture of chemicals--into the oil or gas formation.  As this fluid holds the underground fissures open, oil and gas flow up the well to the surface where they are recovered.  Water makes up an overwhelmingly high percentage of fracking fluid, but a congressional Democrat report released in April identified about 750 chemicals that have also been used in the process, 29 of which are either likely or known carcinogens.  Of course, they did not mention that many known carcinogens are in everyday products.  The level of exposure is what makes carcinogens dangerous, not the simple fact that they exist.  That fluid also flows back up the well, and is stored in open pits until sent to a treatment plant.  Depending upon local geology, a variable amount of fracking fluid remains in the ground after a well has run dry.  Likewise, fracking produces airborne pollutants like methane, benzene, and sulfur oxide, and the EPA has recently targeted this pollution and plans to set strict guidelines to reduce it.


MIT notes, "Natural gas is a major fuel for multiple end-uses—electricity, industry, heating—and is increasingly discussed as a potential pathway to reduced oil dependence for transportation.  In addition, the recent realization that the producible unconventional gas resource in the U.S. is very large has intensified the discussion about natural gas as a 'bridge' to a low-carbon future."


Additionally, the MIT study said, "Shale development requires large-scale fracturing of the shale formation to induce economic production rates.  There has been concern that these fractures can also penetrate shallow freshwater zones and contaminate them with fracturing fluid, but there is no evidence that this is occurring.  It is essential that both large and small companies follow industry best practices; that water supply and disposal are coordinated on a regional basis; and that improved methods are developed for recycling of returned fracture fluids.


Once again, the environmentalists are over sensationalizing the dangers of fracking.  The facts are:


-Fracking involves drilling down as far as 10,000 to 15,000 feet, far below the 300 feet where aquifers exist


-Fracking begins by encasing a steel pipe in cement, before any fracking mixture is delivered directly to the shale levels


-The fracking mixture and some released oil or natural gas is sucked back up through the protected wellbore and stored in surface reserve tanks.  Some is filtered for re-use; some is disposed of at a regulated disposal center


-The fracking mixture is 99.5% water, 0.5 % chemical, and sand.  Companies such as Breitling Oil & Gas generally use between 15 and 30 different chemicals, with emphasis on chemicals that are safe for human consumption


Drilling and fracking have been regulated carefully and effectively by states for decades.  As studies by the University of Texas and various state agencies have documented, there never has been a confirmed case of groundwater contamination caused by fracking.  Even Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa P. Jackson acknowledged that to a congressional panel.


The fact is that there is no evidence of real danger from fracking, as many processes are already in place to minimize the potential for harm.  Considering hydraulic fracturing has been used since 1947 to extract more than seven billion barrels of oil and 600 trillion feet of natural gas from deep underground shale formations, very little evidence has been shown of environmental risks.


An oil shale deposit at Autun, France, was exploited commercially as early as 1839.  The Scottish oil shale industry began about 1859, the year that Colonel Drake drilled his pioneer well at Titusville, Pennsylvania.  Around 20 beds of oil shale were mined at different times.  Mining continued throughout the 1800s and by 1881, oil shale production had reached one million tonnes per year.  With the exception of the World War II years, between one and four million tonnes of oil shale were mined each year in Scotland from 1881 until 1955, when production began to decline, before ceasing in 1962.  Canada produced some shale oil from deposits in New Brunswick and Ontario in the mid-1800s.  Source:, p. 108


Certainly, the dangers of fracking and producing oil shale have been known for at least several decades.  The process developed over time, much like any production cycle, allowing the best and safest procedures to be developed.  The risk of any contamination to aquifers, drinking wells, and of cancer is extremely low.  Like so many environmental claims, there is no evidence that fracking is a danger to aquifers.