New drilling and fracking techniques have been a boon for the oil and gas industry in the United States, making it possible for companies to extract large quantities of oil and gas from shales and other “tight” rock formations. However, shale development has been a nightmare for those exposed to the resulting pollution.
Taken together, spills of toxic fracking fluid and fracking wastewater, groundwater, contamination from methane and fracking fluid, local and regional air pollution problems, explosions and fires, and climate-threatening levels of methane emissions demonstrate the shortsightedness of relying on the dirty energy from shale development.
Yes the oil and gas industry is poised to take the modern drilling and fracking nightmare global. International private and state-owned oil and gas companies from around the world are partnering with U.S. companies to gain drilling and fracking expertise, and new international shale “plays” are being targeted.
Economic downturns like the Great Recession are often associated with negative outcomes, but these social and public health costs increased more in rural counties with the new shale gas wells than in rural counties without shale gas drilling. These negative social impacts were especially pronounced in the counties with the highest density of shale gas wells.
Fracking injects large quantities of water, sand and toxic chemicals under high pressure to release gas tightly held in rock layers. Fracking has expanded rapidly in areas across the country, but Pennsylvania has been at the epicenter of the nation’s fracking boom, with nearly 5,000 shale gas wells drilled between 2005 and 2011.
The fracking boom has brought heavy trucks crowding rural roads and out-of-state workers flooding small towns, often overwhelming local housing, police and public health capacities. The influx of transient workers with disposable income and little to do in their off hours is a recipe for trouble in small-town America, where alcohol-related crimes, traffic accidents, emergency room visits and sexually transmitted infection have all been on the rise.
As the level of hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas wells in the United States has intensified in recent years, much of the mounting public concern has centered on fears that underground water supplies could be contaminated with the toxic chemicals used in the well-stimulation technique that cracks rock formations and releases trapped oil and gas. But in some parts of the country, worries are also growing about fracking’s effect on water supply, as the water-intensive process stirs competition for the resources already stretched thin by drought or other factors.
Every fracking job requires 2 million to 4 million gallons of water, according to the Groundwater Protection Council. The Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, has estimated that the 35,000 oil and gas wells used for fracking consume between 70 billion and 140 billion gallons of water each year. That’s about equal, EPA says, to the water use in 40 to 80 cities with populations of 50,000 people, or one to two cities with a population of 2.5 million each.