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Analysis and Effects of Hydraulic

Fracking on the Environment


Kyle Smyre
3/27/15
ENC3246

Table of Contents
Abstract................................................................................................................................1
Introduction..........................................................................................................................1
Methods................................................................................................................................3
Results..................................................................................................................................3
Discussion and Conclusions................................................................................................4
References............................................................................................................................5

Table of Figures
Figure 1................................................................................................................................1

Abstract
Hydraulic fracturing is a process in which natural gas and petroleum are harvested from a
mining well by which rock is fractured by a pressurized liquid made of a combination of water,
sand, and fracturing chemicals. While the health impacts of this process is arguable, it is
undeniable that there is a lasting impact on the environment. However, the degree to which
companies could improve the process are likely going to be negligible due to economic
limitations as well as a limited demand by the public.
Introduction
As the demand for oil and gas continues to be on the rise, production companies are
forced to use alternative methods and sources of harvesting; previously untapped sources such as
tar sands and oil shales are now worth drilling into [1]. A high-pressure fluid (usually chemicals
and sand suspended in water) is injected into a wellbore to create cracks in the deep-rock
formations through which natural gas, petroleum, and brine will flow more freely. When the
hydraulic pressure is removed from the well, small grains of hydraulic fracturing
solvents (generally, either sand or aluminium oxide) hold the fractures open [2]. Hydraulic
fracturing is highly controversial; whereas its proponents advocate the economic benefits of
more extensively accessiblehydrocarbons, opponents argue that the environmental impacts of
fracking include the risks of contaminating ground water, depleting fresh water, degrading air
quality, potentially triggering earthquakes, noise pollution, surface pollution, and the
consequential hazards to public health and the environment [3].
Figure 1 shown to the left
provides a graphic for
hydraulic fracturing as a
process in a linear
fashion. Pumper trucks, supplied by
tankers which deliver millions of
gallons of water, inject the fracking
liquids into the well which was
previously constructed.
Several
thousand feet into the ground, the
pressurized liquid causes the shale
bed to crack and create vertical
fissures which can span hundreds of
feet. The sand from the hydraulic
liquid flows into the cracks, which

prevents

them

from

closing

prematurely. Due to the low


density of the harvested
oilillustration
and natural
gas, demonstrates
this flows to the
theworkflow
top of theofwell
to be fracturing
stored in [3]
on-site storage tanks [2].
Figure 1 - An
which
hydraulic

However, there is a large amount of fracking water which is returned to the surface, which is
known
as
"flowback" liquid. Of the total fracking liquid used in the hydraulic fracturing process, anywhere
from 10 to thirty percent can become flowback [2]. To dispose of flowback liquids, the cost is
about 2$/bbl, which is two dollars per blue barrel, which is a standard 42 gallon barrel used in
the oil industry [4]. For our research, we investigate if hydraulic fracturing cam be made less
environmentally damaging while still maintaining economic feasibility. Many points must be
taken into consideration, such as the cost of the changes, the impact on the environment, as well
as the general opinion of the population in regards to hydraulic fracturing. If there is no
widespread call for reform, then there should be no need for the renovations.
Methods
Being that we do not have direct access to run research on hydraulic fracturing, our
research is completely secondary. To come to a conclusion regarding the environmental impact
of hydraulic fracturing, we used a variety of resources which performed direct research on our
topic of focus. Another source of research conducted national surveys (within the United States)
to show the public perceptions of hydraulic fracturing; there were various national and state-level
public opinion polls to research the public perception of oil and gas development via hydraulic
fracturing.
Results
It is undeniable as to if there is an environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing; however,
there are differing levels of effects. The impacts include noise pollution, air emissions,
contamination, and adverse health effects on local populations [2]. The hydraulic fracturing
fluids may contain toxic chemicals, however the exact composition cannot be verified because
they are "trade secrets" of companies. In many other countries, these chemicals must be made
public and cannot be hazardous to the local environment [1]. Water used in by hydraulic
fracturing can be a problem in areas that experience water shortage, such as some areas along the
Gulf of Mexico, most notably Texas [1]. Flowback water may not be properly disposed of due to
incidental spillage, and waste disposal pits that are not properly maintained. Some jurisdictions
legally allow for a percentage of total fracking fluid to be lost in the process. Because of this,
ground water can be contaminated as a byproduct, which is sent to wastewater treatment centers
to recycle the liquid to be used in future wells. However, a large issue is the escape of methane
into local aquifers, which are used to supply local populations with drinking water [2]. As a
result, there are reports of tap water from certain areas in Texas and the Dakotas being flammable
when taken from faucets [5].
One important topic is how many Americans are familiar with the process of hydraulic
fracturing; only nine percent of respondents felt that they were well informed on the topic, and
only another twenty-two percent were aware of what hydraulic fracturing is; of those who were
informed on hydraulic fracturing, the majority had no opinion or were undecided on their support
or opposition [4]. One promising area for future risk communication research is expanding
people's thinking of hydraulic fracturing beyond the singular process of extracting oil and gas, to

a broader awareness of the many social, economic, and health impacts with oil and gas
development.
Discussion and Conclusions
The use of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling to harvest natural gas and
petroleum from shale formations are a focal point of political debate throughout the world. The
informed public is divided on fracking, while the majority of people in the United States are
uninformed on the subject matter. Some view fracking as a practice that is extremely hazardous
both to public health and the environment that it should be illegal; others see fracking as an
economic and geopolitical boon that outweighs any consequences.
Use of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing to produce natural gas from shale
formations has provoked debate among politicians all over the world. It has also raised scores of
challenging legal issues that are being litigated in numerous agencies and courts. The public is
divided on fracking. Some people view it as a practice that is so hazardous to public health and
the environment that it should be banned. Thus, for instance, France and New York have imposed
moratoria on fracking. Others view fracking as a potential source of economic, environmental
and geopolitical gains so large that it should be encouraged [5]. Although fracking has existed for
more than half a century, it has only recently boomed as a result of rising energy prices and
declining production from other conventional sources. With this boom, operators around the
country are injecting an array of unknown fluids into shale beds throughout the nation. Some of
the techniques pose grave concerns, particularly those in shallow bedsover drinking water
sources, while others are supposedly benign [4]. However, no one knows the full range of effects
because they have not been adequately researched, mostly in fact due to the lack of federal
regulation [6].
As of the current situation, the cost to lessening the environmental impact of hydraulic
fracturing and not economically feasible for many companies to follow through with. On top of
this, the lack of federal regulation obscures the environmental impact done by the process. As a
solution, the first step should be having a more informed public, which would lead to a more
vocal demand for regulation of hydraulic fracturing.

References
[1] Matthew Eric Blauch , " Developing Effective and Environmentally Suitable Fracturing
Fluids Using Hydraulic Fracturing Flowback Waters," SPE Unconventional Gas Conference,
Society of Petroleum Engineers.
[2] Daniel J. Millera, Xiaofei Huangb, Hua Lib, Sirirat Kasemseta, Albert Leea, Dileep
Agnihotrib, Thomas Hayesc, Donald R. Paula, Benny D. Freemana,, " Fouling-resistant
membranes for the treatment of flowback water from hydraulic shale fracturing: A pilot
study," Journal of Membrane Science, vol. 437, pp. 265275.
[3] Image from: https://www.propublica.org/special/hydraulic-fracturing-national
[4] Hilary Boudet, " Fracking controversy and communication: Using national survey data to
understand public perceptions of hydraulic fracturing," Energy Policy, vol. 65, pp. 57-67,
February 2014.
[5] Richard J. Pierce Jr, " Natural Gas Fracking Addresses All of Our Major Problems," Journal
of Energy & Environmental Law, May 2013.
[6] Hannah Wiseman, " Untested Waters: The Rise of Hydraulic Fracturing in Oil and Gas
Production and the Need to Revisit Regulation ," Fordham Environmental Law Review, vol. 115,
no. 20, 2009.