What is Fracking?
Fracking, short for hydraulic-fracturing, is a dangerous method of natural gas extraction. It entails drilling deep underground into shale deposits and blasting millions of gallons of water laced with sand and hundreds of toxics chemicals at high pressure to break apart the shale to release methane (natural gas). It has been linked to well over a thousand cases of groundwater contamination across the United States. Also common from the practice is surface water contamination, significant air quality problems, public health catastrophes, economic losses to communities, and a host of other problems.
In New York State, the gas industry wants to begin widespread high-volume slick-water horizontal fracturing. High-volume means an enormous quantity of water is used for each frack, generally 2-9 million gallons. Slick-water means that the process requires over 500 toxic chemicals such as benzene, toluene, hydrochloric acid, etc. Horizontal fracturing means wells that are drilled down as well as up to a mile horizontally.
This is not like traditional drilling. Traditional (i.e., conventional) drilling essentially means finding a pocket or cavern of accessible gas or oil underground, drilling straight down, and sucking up the gas. Fracking is a type of unconventional drilling, extreme extraction. It’s a highly industrial process, with each well pad requiring a large area of land, thousands of industrial truck trips, and massive amounts of storage. It’s not like a small rig you would barely notice on a farm–the impact is tremendous.
See our pages Bad for Water, Bad for Air, Bad for Public Health, and Bad for Economy for details about the problems with fracking, but here is a brief overview.
Gas Industry Exemptions: The gas industry has spent $747 million in the last 10 years lobbying and in campaign contributions at the federal level to get exemptions from the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Superfund Act. Famously, there is the 2005 Haliburton loophole that exempts the gas industry from basic protections relating to hazardous chemicals and activities, which is exactly what fracking is.
Water Contamination: The 500+ chemicals used in the fracking process are highly dangerous. They include known carcinogens like benzene and toluene, many endocrine disrupters, as well as more recognizable chemicals like mercury and diesel. Even very small amounts of these chemicals can contaminate enormous bodies of water. There are over a thousand known cases of water contamination from fracking, including hundreds where people can light their water on fire.
Radioactivity: Much of the water that comes back up from the fracking operation, as well as the gas itself, is laced with high levels of radiation. The shale itself is naturally radioactive, with high levels of radium, uranium, radon, and other radioactive components. Dangerous levels of radiation have been documented from this in PA and NY streams, as no treatment plants that the industry puts their wastewater through can treat for radiation and a host of other dangerous chemicals used in the fracking process.
Air Pollution: The fracking operation and use of natural gas leads to terrible air quality issues. Air pollutants include volatile organic compounds, sulfur dioxide, methane gas, well-head benzene, etc. These provide a risk of cancer and increase the number and severity of asthma cases, respiratory illnesses, and a host of other health issues. We have seen communities in places like Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah go in 5-10 years from pristine mountain air to air worse than downtown LA’s air quality on a bad day.
Community Impacts: Fracking means having a dangerous industrial activity right in your back yard (as little as 100 feet from your house). . It’s extremely loud, it smells, and it’s bright at night. Each frack requires over 1,000 round-trip industrial truck trips over the course of one month, destroying local roads and creating traffic hazards. Fracking is linked with increases in crime, accidents, and injuries.
Economics & Jobs: The gas industry touts tremendous job creation and revenue from fracking. These claims are vastly overstated, part of a manipulative propaganda campaign to get public and political support. The truth is that fracking creates only a few jobs, mostly short-term jobs for out-of-state workers, while pushing out long-term jobs in industries such as agriculture, tourism, and small businesses. In 3 years of drilling 4,000 wells in Pennsylvania, fewer than 6,000 jobs were created, 70% of them to out-of-state workers, while many jobs were lost in other industries negatively affected by the industrial process.
Natural Gas is Not Clean: One of the biggest myths out there is that natural gas is a clean, transition fuel. The holistic process of fracking, transporting, and combustion makes natural a very dirty, polluting fuel. In addition to a range of dangerous pollutants, the life-cycle of natural gas releases a tremendous amount of methane into the atmosphere. Methane is a particularly potent greenhouse gas, more than 20 times worse for the climate in the 100-year time frame than carbon dioxide. A growing body of research shows that natural gas is worse for climate change than coal.