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Poisoned lives & land: Fracking cracks more than just rock

Hydraulic fracturing (or ‘fracking’) is a technique used to extract oil and gas from deep inside the earth. Producers use a special liquid at high pressure to create fissures underground and force gas up a pipe. The process is cost effective and allows otherwise inaccessible resources to be collected. But opponents point to the dangers associated with fracking, from various environmental issues, to detrimental effects on human health.

The first problem environmentalists draw attention to is water usage. The operation requires millions of gallons of water. Records in Texas show that mostly fresh water is being used. Fracking therefore poses a danger to drinking water supplies in the long run.

Hydraulic fracturing requires that water be mixed with sand and chemicals, including toxic substances such as uranium, methanol, and formaldehyde. This can lead to a variety of problems. First of all, there is always a danger that the fluid will leak from the well. In America, it has already been confirmed that ground and drinking water in some states has been contaminated. According to studies in Colorado, people living near drilling operations are at greater risk of contracting all kinds of diseases, including illnesses affecting the skin, brain, and nervous system.

People living close to fracking sites have reportedly been exposed to methane – a by-product of natural gas drilling. Apart from its effects on human health, this greenhouse gas is known to be a significant contributor to global warming.

Another major problem with fracking is caused by the fluid left in wastewater wells after the process. High-pressure underground can induce seismic activity, even in places where it used to be uncommon. Ohio, Arkansas and some parts of the UK have reported an increased number of small-scale earthquakes.

Despite the dangers associated with it, fracking is still being conducted in 21 US states, including:

  • Pennsylvania
  • West Virginia
  • California
  • Utah
  • Michigan
  • Alabama
  • Nebraska
  • Alaska

The various problems caused by fracking have affected EU policy, and now measures are being adopted to limit the use of this technique. After an outright ban in France, some US states have also ramped up regulation. Vermont and New York were the first states to ban fracking completely.

Watch FRACK US on RTD Documentaries to learn more about the dangers of fracking.