Fracking is an extreme form of oil and natural gas extraction. Across the United States, fracking has contaminated water, made families sick, polluted the air, caused environmental ruin, exacerbated climate change, and turned communities upside down.
The term fracking is generally used to encompass the entire process of well pad construction, drilling and high-volume hydraulic fracturing, along with impacts coming from wastewater disposal, pipelines, compressor stations, and other infrastructure. This entails drilling up to two miles underground vertically and horizontally, and blasting a mix of 1-10 million gallons of water mixed with sand and tens of thousands of gallons of hundreds of dangerous chemicals at high pressure to break apart tight shale formations to release oil and gas. In some ways the technology goes back sixty or more years, but the modern form of fracking – at extremely high pressure and volume, often with horizontal drilling – is a new development in the past approximately 15 years. Fracking is an extreme form of unconventional oil and gas extraction.
The widespread use of fracking is linked with the infamous Halliburton Loophole, a part of the 2005 Energy Policy Act that exempted fracking from key provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act, one of our most fundamental environmental protection laws. The loopholes were pushed through by former Vice President Dick Cheney, who was previously an executive at Halliburton, one of the fracking pioneers and top fracking companies. Drilling and fracking also have exemptions from parts of the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act.
As fracking has expanded across the country, now in a majority of states, more and more problems and harms have emerged. Science is only beginning to catch up. Meanwhile, the oil and gas industry has relied on secrecy and political influence to hide the harms, employing many of the same tactics the tobacco industry used to bury the harms of smoking. The oil and gas industry utilizes non-disclosure agreements with settlements to silence victims and hide the health impacts, refuses scientists access, and runs aggressive smear campaigns against critics and scientists who raise alarm.
Nevertheless the science is now starting to catch up, and more and more affected residents are speaking out about the harms they have experienced from fracking. The vast majority of more than 680 peer-reviewed studies find risks and adverse impacts from drilling and fracking, including health impacts, water contamination, air pollution, earthquakes, and more. A recent peer-reviewed study analyzing all of the relevant peer-reviewed literature found that, “the great majority of science contains findings that indicate concerns for public health, air quality and water quality.”
The other sections about fracking delve into more of the impacts. We also encourage you to look at a comprehensive Compendium of the science and impacts from two expert organizations, Physicians for Social Responsibility and Concerned Health Professionals of New York.