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.
Fracking, an oil production process that involves injecting pressurized water, sand and chemicals to break up shale rocks underground to release gas and oil, has been responsible for oil and gas booms in Texas and other states where shale oil exists. However, fracking also appears to cause earthquakes and to possibly contaminate ground water, making it a controversial process in many parts of the country. Residents say that odors from the process create health problems.
Oil and Gas workers are subject to some of the most hazardous industrial conditions in the U.S., and serious injuries and fatalities often occur from oil and gas accidents. In January of this year, NPR reported that accidents among workers in the industry are on the rise. From 2009 to 2012 the industry added 23 percent more workers, "[b]ut the hiring spree has come with a terrible price: Last year, 138 workers were killed on the job - an increase of more than 100 percent since 2009," wrote Andrew Schneider and Marilyn Geewax for NPR. "In fact, the fatality rate among oil and gas workers in now nearly eight times higher than the all-industry rate of 3.2 deaths for every 100,000 workers."
A recent study from Cornell University has determined that pumping wastewater from natural gas drilling sites into wells buried deep underground is probably why Oklahoma is experiencing more small earthquakes than California. The study says hydraulic fracturing for gas cannot be directly linked to increased seismic activity, but the injection of wastewater from drilling at disposal sites creates fluid pressure below the surface that can trigger earthquakes. The lead author of the study is Katie Keranen, an assistant professor of seismology at Corfnell University in New York.
For the past two years, residents of Parker County have experienced eruptions of flames shooting from their water wells as a result of dangerous levels of methane gas traveling into their water supply. Barnett Shale gas producers have claimed zero connection to their gas and oil operations, but a pair of scientists are now disputing this. This new connection has been made based on test results released by state regulators providing a direct connection to the fracking and groundwater contamination.
The Eagle Ford Shale and Permian Basin have served as the backdrop to many million-dollar stories in Southwest Texas. Fracking technologies have given oil and gas companies access to the large stores of natural gas and oil deep below Texas' surface. Land that once would have sold for a couple thousand dollars an acre is now selling for much more than that or being leased to oil and gas companies in return for monthly royalty checks.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is taking small steps to oversee the safety of the booming fracking industry. Companies who engage in hydraulic fracturing in the waters off the coast of Southern California will be required to report, beginning March 1, if they dump chemicals into the ocean. But, there's a catch. The rule only applies to new drilling jobs; existing rigs will be grandfathered in under the new rule and are exempt from the reporting requirements.
Just north of Dallas, the city of Denton, Texas thought it was taking steps to protect its citizens and their property from the side effects of fracking and the shale oil boom by passing an ordinance prohibiting the building of wells within 1200 feet of a home. However, the ordinance grandfathered in existing wells and some of these are within a 200-foot radius of some residents' front doors. The city referred to these sites as having "vested rights."
As reported by the Associated Press, the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project has been attempting to help people who feel they have been sickened by natural gas drilling or processing for about 18 months in a southern Pittsburgh county where nearly 700 natural gas wells have been drilled in the past six years. The study conducted, although not a full survey of the area, did uncover 27 cases in which people in Washington County believed they were hurt by nearby drilling. These injuries included skin rashes, eye irritation, breathing problems, headaches, and dizziness. These findings challenge the industry position that no one suffers but also suggests the issue may not be as wide spread as some critics claim.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is required to set air quality standards pursuant to the Clean Air Act. For ozone, the EPA has set the standard for ambient air at 75 parts per billion (ppb). San Antonio registers an ozone level as high as 87 ppb, well over the EPA's set limit.