Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a method of removing oil and gas from shale by pumping high-pressure liquid, chemicals and sand into the rock to open it up so that the oil or gas can be extracted. Several Texas cities tried to prevent this method of obtaining oil and gas from shale deposits, citing pollution concerns.
There have been incidents of equipment failure that allowed water, chemicals and oil to spill onto the ground or into adjacent waterways. This happened in Arlington a few months ago, although overall, such occurrences are rare. However, the problems with fracking go beyond pollution.
Fracking is thought to result in earthquakes caused by the force of the water, chemicals and sand injected as deep as a mile or more triggering disturbances far underground. These earthquakes occur in places where such events seldom if ever occur, and building codes are not set to prevent damage even at lower Richter scale measurements.
Another problem related to fracking is the release of methane gas, a powerful greenhouse gas that generates more atmospheric heat than carbon dioxide. Although the technology exists to capture the gas before it is released, the technology is expensive and oil and gas producers have fought hard against imposing a requirement to capture methane before it is released into the air.
Apart from long-term problems such as methane gas release into the atmosphere and earthquakes, the use of fracking technology results in other environmental problems. Even when everything works as it should, the transport of water, sand and chemicals to the oil shale where they will be used burns significant amounts of fuel. The use of millions of gallons of water, especially in areas where water is scarce, has raised the ire of environmentalists.
Increased amounts of methane have been found in drinking water near fracking sites. Some believe that increased rates of neurological damage and respiratory problems near wells that employ fracking are the result of methane leaching into the drinking water.
The cost of the transport, in terms of both fuel and the danger of chemical spills, is significant. Many of the chemicals used in fracking are known carcinogens. Even when everything works as it should, workers can be exposed to lethal substances.
It is not surprising that Texas passed a law prohibiting local bans on fracking. After all, Texas is oil country. However, it is possible that in years to come, the cost of fracking will outweigh the benefits. Who will bear the increased expense of illness, injuries and property damage? That remains to be seen.