The Reality of Hydraulic Fracturing

The technology of hydraulic fracturing or fracking is a relatively new method of natural gas extraction from a special shale formation. These formations are found in the United States, Canada, Western and Eastern Europe. The US resources are considered large enough to power the households for more than 50 years. The oil and gas companies obviously want to develop the deposits, but the environmental protection agencies protest against the shale gas extraction. They claim that this is gangrenous for the environment and the human health.

The method is about 60 years old. The companies started using the pressured water with sand and special chemicals to release gas and oil. They inject the mixture liquid into a shale formation, the chemicals ruin the rock and the mineral products reach the earth surface under the pressure. In the early 1990s, the US engineers came up with the idea of using a horizontal drilling, they also improved the composition of the chemical cocktail, the technology allowed increasing the amount of gas and oil extracted, and decreased the costs.

The most obvious benefit of hydraulic fracturing is that it helps to reach the additional reserves and increases the supplies significantly, for instance in the US today shale gas makes about a quarter of the total amount of the resources. The fact is that this power source is cleaner than the other sources of energy and may contribute to a reduction of a carbon footprint. Its production helps to develop economically weak regions and create jobs, e.g. in Pennsylvania the shale boom leaded to more than 70,000 new work places in the 2010s.

However, there are good reasons for environmental concerns. The public does not have access to the composition of the chemical cocktails that are used, but acids, poisons and detergents are probably there. If these harmful agents seep into groundwater, they can decrease the quality of drinking water in the area and cause harm to the people’s health. Another problem reported is that the released methane creates danger of explosion. The technology results radioactive elements and salt reaching the surface. Later these chemicals are injected back into the wells; sometimes the process triggers small earthquakes that were reported at least in eight locations in the US.

The risks described above resulted in ban of hydraulic fracturing in France and Bulgaria. It is likely that England and Poland will not allow fracturing drilling as well in the future. In the US, some states have debates whether it is safe to allow the method, while others continue shale gas development.