Fracking, colloquial for hydraulic fracturing, has led to a great boom in natural gas production, and therefore prices. Unfortunately, fracking has also led to a similar “boom” in side effects.
Natural gas emits slightly less carbon dioxide than petroleum does, and far less than coal, but is still a fossil fuel. One might hale the increasing adoption of fracking as a boon to reducing carbon dioxide emissions, lessening the impact of transportation and power generation fuels on the atmosphere. Unfortunately, the fracking side effects are fairly numerous, none of which are beneficial.
For example, we have covered before the effect that fracking is having on the atmosphere, such as increased methane and carbon dioxide emissions at the well. Additionally, wastewater from fracking operations has been shown to be extremely toxic, carcinogenic, even radioactive, polluting streams and soil. Then there are is seismic activity, the effect of pumping tons of “lubricating” material between previously-undisturbed strata. Have we left anything out?
Going back to exactly how fracking works, it basically involves drilling a long horizontal well, after which a mix of chemicals and sand is pumped into the well under high pressure, fracturing the rock. After sucking out the chemical brew, which fracking companies are not required to disclose, the sand remains behind, keeping open the cracks, so the natural gas can seep out. Understandably, this requires a lot of sand, some 47.5 million tons this year alone, referred to as frac-sand, which has to be mined and processed.
Unfortunately, some of these frac-sand mines are popping up in populated areas. As if the noise was not bad enough, then there is the air pollution and resulting sickness, specifically silica sand and silicosis. For the most part, the frac-sand mining industry is concentrated on a certain 425-million-year-old rock formation that spans parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin. According to a recent report, nearly 60,000 people live within a half-mile of existing and proposed frac-sand mining sites, including twenty schools. Silica sand if often in the air, and therefore residents’ lungs, or washes into streams, choking them.
There appears to be no end in sight, however, because frac-sand mining “regulations,” much like fracking regulations are *cough* so well-interpreted and enforced.
Image © EWG