Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a new process that uses pressurized liquid to crack rock 8,000 feet below the surface so hydrocarbons such as natural gas can be extracted. This technique calls for several million gallons of water mixed with sand and toxic chemicals to be injected at high pressure into a well to create fractures deep underground. After this mixture is removed, these cracks form conduits along which natural gas and petroleum migrate into the well for extraction. After a well is depleted, it is usually filled with waste water from other fracking operations, creating a permanent disposal site for this toxic byproduct. More than a million U.S. fracking operations have already been undertaken. Proponents point to the benefits of home-produced energy such as jobs, improved national security and reduced air pollution from cleaner-burning natural gas. Opponents point to the adverse environmental impacts of fracking including contamination of ground water, depletion of fresh water, and toxic waste water disposal. It is estimated that our fracking operations produced 280 billion gallons of wastewater in 2012 –or enough to flood all of Washington, D.C. in a 22-foot deep toxic lagoon. Health advocates worry about the carcinogenic chemicals likely contained in fracking fluids, but this industry continually refuses to identify the “proprietary” chemicals it pumps into fracking wells. This refusal goes unchallenged because the Bush administration exempted fracking chemicals from the protections provided by the 1974 Safe Drinking Water Act.

Citing health concerns and risks to the environment, New York has recently instituted a state-wide ban on fracking. Research now shows that people who live near fracking operations are more likely to suffer serious health issues such as heart problems, neurological illnesses and cancer. Fracking opponents also warn of the risks to air quality and climate change due to significant methane releases during the fracking process. They claim this leakage may be great enough to offset the benefits of lower carbon emissions that result from burning natural gas. They say natural gas is not a bridge to a clean energy future because methane, the main component of natural gas, is 72 times more potent in damaging climate than carbon dioxide. Advocates also worry fracking will increase carbon emissions overall since cheap natural gas encourages more energy use and slows the development of renewable fuel technology.

In addition, recent research has confirmed these oil and gas drilling operations are causing local earthquakes, often exceeding 3.0 in magnitude. Before heavy fracking operations began in Oklahoma, earthquakes of this size occurred less than twice a year. However, last year Oklahomans experienced 700 of these small tremors – 300 times as many as occurred in 2008. Fracking also makes local fault zones sensitive to shock waves from large distant quakes. One study found that strong earthquakes which occur halfway around the world can set off small to moderate quakes near fracking operations. Many Americans living near active fault lines along our Pacific Coast are also concerned offshore fracking operations could make these earthquake-prone areas more dangerous.

Pending Legislation:
H.R.1482 - Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act of 2015
H.R.1951 - Offshore Fracking Transparency and Review Act of 2015
S.15 - Protecting States' Rights to Promote American Energy Security Act

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May 21, 2020
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