Fracking up the water supply

A move away from coal for power generation is seeing increased interest in natural gas. A lesser of the fossil fuel evils (?), extraction of natural gas has its own environmental issues. In my article “How green is natural gas?”, I made mention of hydraulic fracturing, aka fracking, as a method of gaining access to the gas.

Fracking involves the use of sand and fluids under high pressure being pumped deep into the ground to fracture rock and in the process, giving trapped gas a way to escape and be collected.

The fluids used in the fracturing process have been of concern as companies engaged in fracking tend to keep their components under wraps, citing their composition to be trade secrets.

Residents living close to fracking operations are concerned that these fluids may contain toxic chemicals that will wind up in their water supply. In some cases, fracking has seen the natural gas itself wind up in aquifers in levels so high that residents can actually set their water taps alight.

Just this week, water testing has discovered toxic chemicals in wells in a township in Pennsylvania. Ethylene glycol and toluene were detected; chemicals known to be used in frac fluids. However, the company carrying out operations close by denies the presence of these toxins having anything to do with them.

These aren’t isolated cases – a report from RiverKeepers called Fractured Communities (PDF) outlines hundreds of case studies showing industrial gas drilling, including fracking, results in significant adverse environmental impacts. According to RiverKeepers, hydraulic fracturing is now used at roughly 90% of oil and gas wells in the U.S.

It seems wherever the fossil fuel industry goes, major environmental damage accompanies it. The threats posed by fracking are just another reason why we should see fossil fuels as merely a stepping stone towards clean energy economies based on renewable energy resources such as solar power rather than as a long term solution.