Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Science debunks fracking fallacies

Many people oppose hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, but it’s an industry that has brought more than 2.1 million jobs to America.

President Obama even said “the industry has helped reduce our carbon emissions to their lowest level in 20 years.” So why are people scared and so quick to follow environmental extremists against fracking? The answer is the lack of knowledge.

What is fracking? While a well is being drilled, steel casing is cemented into place to prevent contamination of surrounding aquifers, which provides structural support. Then the fracking process can start — openings are created in the steel casing so fracking fluid can come in contact with the shale. Finally, water is blended with sand and chemicals and then pumped into the well. When the fluid reaches the holes in the casing, the pressure will cause the shale to fracture along zones of weakness, increasing hydraulic conductivity. The whole fracking process is a few days in the life of a well that may last years.

So what about all the conspiracy theories behind fracking? Burning tap water, earthquakes, aquifer contamination and fracking fluid are just a few.

Burning tap water occurs when natural methane mixes with groundwater — this is called methane migration. In many cases, the water wells in question have been drilled directly into methane pockets. Up to 50 layers of natural gas can occur between the surface and the shale. Poor well construction can lead to methane escaping into groundwater, but well construction is not fracking. A conventional hydrocarbon or water well will cause the same issue.

Earthquakes are another fracking conspiracy, although they have nothing to do with fracking. Seismologist Dr. Cliff Frohlich from University of Texas at Austin concluded that earthquakes are caused by deep injection wells and not production wells that are fracked. The U.S Geologic Survey found similar results reporting injection wells can cause earthquakes that have the potential to cause damage.

Production wells have multiple failsafe’s to protect the freshwater aquifer. The first is the cement and steel casings that run the length of the well mentioned previously. Second, the aquifers are generally 500-feet deep. Formations that will be fracked sit at about 10,000 feet deep, leaving thousands of feet of impermeable cap rock that isolates aquifers from the shale formations.

The “mysterious” fracking fluid is always under attack. In reality, the fluid consists of 90 percent water, 9.5 percent sand and 0.5 percent chemicals, and the chemicals can be found in household products like cosmetics and cleaning supplies. Ninety percent of wastewater from fracking is also being recycled for future use.

We live in a time dominated by hydrocarbons, and utilizing hydraulic fracturing in the United States means less dependence on foreign energy sources. The most destructive consequence of fracking is having it banned.

Email Michael Dorsey at


  1. Hi, I would like to say that I respect your work and am interested in knowing more about your investigative process for writing this article. While Environmental Science is not my major I do consider myself an informed self-taught person on this subject. One basic thing that stood out to me was how down-played the negative side effects were presented in this article. From the literature that I have read through the years I know that living near a fracking site makes birth defects significantly more likely. On the other hand it is my impression that the safety and control of these operations was exaggerated in your article, I remember reading that even the fracking industry admits that somewhere around 20 percent of all operations will eventually fail (i.e. spill and contaminate the surrounding area).

    Finally, I would say I completely agree with your closing argument that we live in a time dominated by Hydrocarbons, as it is evident that these by and large power our country at the present moment. Nonetheless, I instead believe that it is (and has been for quite some time) the moment to change this paradigm for a plethora of reasons related to the negative side effects of Global Climate Change: rising sea levels, increased number and severity of natural storms, problems with food access….that affect all humans on this planet, but affecting the poor the most.

    You opened this article mentioning how fracking has helped create jobs and reduce carbon emissions. While this may be true these numbers would seem infinitesimal when compared to what renewable, sustainable, clean energy could (and is already) doing both nationally and internationally (e.g. Germany).

  2. Mike,

    Although fracking has brought millions of jobs to America I do not believe that justifies the cost of fracking.

    The biggest issue I am concerned with here is water. As you know, the New England region has the highest concentration of fresh surface water in the world, a valuable resource on many different levels.

    If fracking were to be allowed here, I believe that resource would quickly become tainted. Yes, when drilling a well, there is a protocol set up to ensure wells are properly cased. However, who is to say they don’t crack in the after inspection or completion of drilling? This stuff happens hundreds (or thousands) of feet down and I know you know how difficult it is to make observations in that environment. Do you really think gas companies routinely check their wells for cracks? This is only concerning the drill site itself. What about the thousands of trucks needed to service wells? Accidents happens and people make mistakes while driving regualrly. It is a very large cost many people forget to take into account when weighing the pros/cons of fracking.

    And as far as the chemicals in the brine solutions go: what do you have to say about brine solutions containing radioactive elements in them? Just because some of the chemicals are found in household cleaners doesn’t make them anymore safe when they’re in your drinking water.

    And just as a side note ‘foreign dependence on energy’ most people relate to the Middle East. However, most of our energy is imported from Canada. Beside, a majority of the gas produced by fracking is shipped abroad, it is not intend for domestic markets, it is extracted for China and India consumption.

    Evan Cazavilan

  3. To Michael Dorsey,
    Hello sir, to start I guess I should inform you that I must be one of the environmental extremists you mentioned in your article or at the very least someone brainwashed by one. I just don’t think we should risk the leaking of any of the hazardous fracking fluid into the essential aquifers. Did you know the chemicals you referred to, those which they use in the fracking fluid, contain numerous proven cancer-causing carcinogens. There’s also a very obvious trend now showing that fracking harms the land’s stability and causes earthquakes. I hope that my comment may influence you to look into the possible truths of what I’m saying, I know I’ve looked into that which you mentioned. I too was infatuated with the idea of fracking once, I thought it would be a wonderful transitional source to more renewable means of energy; but as I researched further I found more and more evidence stacking against fracking and accentuating its flaws. Thank you for working hard and putting numerous research hours into your piece though, it was very nicely written and I can see a great persuasive talent in your writing. I hope my comment didn’t offend you or portray any message of judgment and/or hatred, I wish only to open your eyes to another perspective, one which it seems you may have interacted with before, but perhaps on the wrong terms. I hope you’ll see that this “debate” on fracking need not be hostile and there are some gray areas, but for most people taking the risks that come necessarily with fracking is just too much to ask of them. Congratulations on the completion of a successful piece, please feel free to contact me, update me, inform me, etc. via my e-mail listed.
    Good luck in your future endeavors,
    Anthony Fernandez

    • Adrian, sorry for the confusion. We receive lots of spam, so it takes time for our web editor to manually approve comments. We hope it wasn’t too much of an inconvenience. Thank you for your feedback.

      • Ok, sorry for the impatience just wanted to make sure people who read the article had a comprehensive view on this issue, thanks!

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