Hydraulic fracturing – the technical term for fracking – is a method of getting gas and oil from shale rock, that is, a sedimentary rock made of mud and minerals. First, a hole, called a “wellbore” is drilled into the rock. Next, a high-pressure liquid –– usually a mix of water, sand and chemicals –– is injected into the wellbore to help the natural gas escape.
Okay, cool –– natural gas. That’s good, right?
Remember when we said the pressured liquid was a mix of water, sand and chemicals? According to New York State Department of Environmental Conservation estimates, each fracking session can require anywhere from 2.4 to 7.8 million gallons of water. That’s 2,400,000 to 7,800,000 gallons.
Second, those chemicals required to frack? Yeah, not great for the environment (and, by extension, you). The chemicals used vary (fracking was protected under regulations imposed by Congress in the 2005 Safe Water Drinking Act). Those chemicals can easily flow into potable water –– i.e., the water that you consume –– and ultimately, into your body.
Since, again, the specific chemicals aren’t regulated, frackers are technically allowed to use chemicals like methanol (also found in: antifreeze, vehicle fuel), formaldehyde (a carcinogen, once widely used to preserve specimens in laboratories), lead (another carcinogen that can also cause neurological disorders) and naphthalene (yet another carcinogen, most commonly found in mothballs).
But…it’s safer than coal, right?
Again, not quite.
While burning coal isn’t great for the environment, burning natural gas –– that is, the product of fracking –– releases other gases like methane. So while it’s true, burning coal gives off twice as many carbon dioxide emissions as natural gas, methane traps heat more than 100 times better than an equal amount of carbon dioxide. So ultimately, these methane emissions negate any benefits you’d reap from producing and using natural gas.
Oh, and all that drilling required? Surprisingly, not great for the rocks. Fracking has been credited with creating earthquakes, including a 4.0 quake in Youngstown, Ohio on New Year’s Eve 2011.
In short, dear reader, hydraulic fracturing is a bad frackin’ idea.