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Facts and Myths You may not Know about Fracking

Komal B. Patil Feb 15, 2020
Fracking or hydraulic fracturing is a method of shale gas extraction, which is highly controversial due to its health and environmental implications. The usage and safety of this technique has been constantly questioned leading to the propagation of a variety of myths.

Abundant Resources

EIA forecasts that dry natural gas production will average 91.0 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) in 2019, up 7.6 Bcf/d from 2018. EIA estimates that natural gas inventories ended March at 1.2 trillion cubic feet (Tcf), which would be 17% lower than levels from a year earlier and 30% lower than the five-year (2014–18) average.
By fracking remote underground shale gas reserves are tapped, the shale formations with the use of pressurized fluid, made of water, sand, and a few industrial chemicals.
The fractures thus formed, release the trapped gas reserves, that are then extracted and utilized. With the rising demand for sustainable fuel alternatives, fracking for gas has been widely implemented.
Despite this, fracking has been a misunderstood and highly controversial topic for a long time. Controversies arise due to the non-transparency of work processes by the oil and gas companies, and also due to a widely prevalent unawareness in the general public.
These two factors coupled together with the world's rising health concerns, due to global pollution, has led to the rampant proliferation of various myths concerning the fracking process, the chemicals and machinery involved, and their health and environmental implications.

Fracking: Debunking a Few Myths

Myth: Tap water becomes flammable and undrinkable due to fracking.
Fact: The fractured shale deposits are found thousands feet below water aquifers of the groundwater table. For the gas to leak into the water supply, fracking fluids would have to cause a big fissure and flow upwards against the gravitational force, across a vast distance of impervious rock.
The flammable nature of the tap water can be explained by the elevated levels of methane in the water source. However this does not occur as a consequence of fracking.
Myth: The process involves the use of over 500 highly toxic chemicals in the fracking fluid.
Fact: The fracking fluid functions to induce and maintain the fractures, so as to enable the gas to flow into the drilled pipes. The chemicals in the fluid ensure an efficient gas retrieval with minimal losses or damage.
The fluid is 99.5% water and sand, with 0.5% chemicals needed. Only about 25-30 chemicals are added to the fluid, and are added in low amounts due to their costly nature.
Myth: The chemicals used in the process are kept confidential.
Fact: A number of policies passed by the U.S. government, along with many rules and regulations laid down by the oil and gas regulating agencies, are trying to implement 100% transparency of the chemicals utilized in the process.
A few websites have the list of chemicals displayed along with their purpose. Also, this information can be easily gained by accessing the national fracking chemical registry, FracFocus.

Additionally, most of the chemicals used , are also used in every household for a variety of purposes in everyday life.
Myth: Fracking causes earthquakes.
Fact: The term "earthquakes" in the myth refers to those types that can be perceived and felt. However, the tremors or quakes generated due to fracking are not perceptible.
Till date, the highest magnitudes of earthquakes caused by shale fracturing are 1.5 and 2.4 on the Richter scale. Such magnitudes are equivalent to the tremors caused by vehicular traffic in urban areas.
Myth: The process utilizes enormous quantities of water, leading to water shortage and drought conditions.
Fact: Out of total U.S. freshwater consumption, only 0.3% is utilized for fracking all the shale wells of the nation. In comparison, golf courses utilize 0.5% of the total freshwater.
Myth: Fracking is a new and experimental procedure.
Fact: The process was developed and used in Kansas, in 1947 for the first time. Since then many modifications have been carried out to make the process more efficient and cost-effective. The process appears to be new due to its recent application in horizontal drilling for shale gas.
Myth: Fracking operations are unregulated.
Fact: Before the process is begun, the company has to obtain various permits from the state authorities by disclosing the equipment to be used, the chemicals involved, the plans for protection of groundwater, and the strategies for waste-water management.
Myth: Fracking is not a significant economic benefit.
Fact: Not only is shale gas a cleaner fuel alternative, but industry also creates several white-collar and blue-collar jobs. Due to employment opportunities, the economy of neighboring towns is benefited, and also benefits other allied industries like hotels, restaurants , grocery stores, etc.

Fracking: Statistics

▣ On an average, each well utilizes 6 million gallons of water, 800 tons of sand, and 100,000 gallons of chemicals.

▣ Shale gas made up 39% of the total natural gas produced in 2012.

▣ Fracking will reduce the U.S. import of oil and gas from 60% (2005) to 25% (2016).
▣ Without the use of fracking, there would be a decrease of 45% in gas production and a 17% in oil production over a period of 5 years.

▣ Due to this industry, approximately 2.1 million jobs were generated in 2012.
Like the phrase, there's no smoke without fire, the myths are not completely untrue. They are based on the occasional events of errant activities by fracking companies. They arise due to the companies disregarding the rules and regulations or due to extreme cost-cutting endeavors.
It is hence safe to be on guard if a fracking unit is in one's vicinity, and to report any suspicious acts or events, as early as possible.