Fracking: How it Works and its Effects on Groundwater

If one watches the news or is environmentally informed, it’s likely he or she has heard that hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking, is harmful to the environment. Although there are economic benefits to fracking, there are many more negative disadvantages to fracking. The specific chemicals and fluids used in fracking that harm the environment, affecting water and the ecosystem. Fracking is also a disadvantage to people in other ways, including contributing to the number of oil spills and adding to air pollution. Fracking for petroleum resources is taking a toll on the environment and public health.

According to the Oil and Natural Gas Historical Society, Fracking has roots dating back to 1862, when Union veteran Lt. Col. Edward A. L. Roberts first had the idea of breaking open crevices of rocks containing oil by exploding a torpedo therein the rock. Robert’s idea, later called “Robert’s Torpedo” subsequently blossomed into Roberts Petroleum Torpedo Company. (Oil and Natural Gas Historical Society) This technology continued to evolve into what is modern-day fracking. Pursuant to research conducted by Montana State University, fracking today involves vertically drilling wells thousands of feet deep in order to reach the natural oil and gas found in the earth, then horizontally drilling, opening a space for a cement casing to be installed. This casing serves as a channel for water, fracking fluid, chemicals and sand needed to fracture the rock and shale, allowing oil and gas to be extracted. (Hoffman) This contemporary form of fracking has incredulously negative effects on the environment.

Fracking fluid contains an abundance of harmful chemicals. Frac Focus Chemical Disclosure Registry describes approximately 60 different chemicals that reoccur in most fracking fluid mixtures. Some of these chemicals help dissolve minerals and initiate cracks in the rock, eliminate bacteria, prevents clay from shifting, prevents the corrosion of materials, and many other things to make sure that the fracking process goes smoothly. (Frac Focus Chemical Disclosure Registry) Although there are about 60 chemicals the reoccur, according to an article regarding the chemicals in fracking by Yale News, there are “more than 1,000 chemicals in fluids used in and created by [fracking]. (Greenwood) Many of these chemicals are “associated with either developmental or reproductive toxicity. (Greenwood)

Unfortunately, even though the fracking industry uses a casing in order to keep a barrier between fracking fluid and the Earth, groundwater still has the possibility to be contaminated. People are incredibly dependent on groundwater, and it’s important that it’s not contaminated. In fact, for “51% of the U.S. population, groundwater supplies their total drinking water, while also supplying 99% of drinking water to the U.S. rural population. (Groundwater Foundation) As defined by the Groundwater Foundation, “Groundwater is the water found underground in the cracks and spaces in soil, sand and rock. It is stored in and moves slowly through geologic formations of soil, sand and rocks called aquifers. (Groundwater Foundation) During the fracking process “the cement casing¬† can fail or break during the fracturing process, allowing the [fracking] fluid … to contaminate groundwater. (Greenpeace International)

Even though the fracking industry claims that negative reports are due to “improper drilling practices, accidental surface leaks, natural occurrences the evidence still stands. (Lees, 576) In contrast to that claim, its shown through research that the as the “high volume [of] … hydraulic fracturing increases, so to does [the] evidence which points to the underground migration of fracking fluid and methane into groundwater as the culprit. (Lees)

Annotated Works

Cited

  • Frac Focus Chemical Disclosure Regitry. “What Chemicals Are Used? FracFocus: Chemical Disclosure Registry, fracfocus.org/chemical-use/what-chemicals-are-used. Frac Focus is an organization owned by the Ground Water Protection Council and Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission. The source lists chemicals used in fracking fluid. The list also describes how the chemicals work specifically and what their purpose in the fluid is. (Frac Focus Chemical Disclosure Regitry.) The source is used to describe different chemicals in fracking fluid.
  • Greenpeace International. “Fracking’s Environmental Impacts: Water. Greenpeace International, 2015, www.greenpeace.org/usa/global-warming/issues/fracking/environmental-impacts-water/. Greenpeace is the largest non-profit environmental organization in the world, dedicated to investigating environmental crisis, educating the masses, and encouraging people to volunteer. The article explains how fracking/hydraulic fracturing contaminates the environment and how toxic fracking fluids are. The text also explains how contamination affects water wells and gas migration. (Greenpeace International.) The source is used to explain how contamination is caused by fracking/hydraulic fracturing and environmental effects of fracking/hydraulic fracturing.
  • Greenwood, Michael. “Toxins Found in Fracking Fluids and Wastewater, Study Shows. Yale News, 6 Jan. 2016, news.yale.edu/2016/01/06/toxins-found-fracking-fluids-and-wastewater-study-shows. Michael Greenwood is a writer for Yale News, which is a news source ran by Yale University, a trusted and well respected prestigious American university. The article describes a study conducted by a team of researchers regarding the chemicals in fracking and how they contaminate the environment. The article also describes fracking in recent years. (Greenwood) The source is used to describe the drastic number of chemicals found in fracking fluid.
  • Groundwater Foundation. “What Is Groundwater? The Groundwater Foundation, www.groundwater.org/get-informed/basics/groundwater.html. The Groundwater Foundation, founded by Founded by Susan S. Seacrest (who is a recipient of the 2015 Maurice Kremer Groundwater Achievement Award), is an organization with the goal to keep groundwater safe and clean for all people through education, action and innovation. The source provides information on what groundwater is and where it is located. Additionally, the source provides statistics regarding groundwater. (Groundwater Foundation.) The source is used to define what groundwater is and how dependent people are on groundwater.
  • Hoffman, Joe. “Potential Health and Environmental Effects of Hydrofracking in the Williston Basin, Montana. Teach the Earth, 5 Apr. 2018, https://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/health/case_studies/hydrofracking_w.html The article is a case study developed by students in the Department of Earth Sciences at Montana State University in 2012. The article explains how fracking/hydraulic fracturing works, and what the author considers to be potential risks of fracking/hydraulic fracturing. The impacts the article lists include water pollution, oil spills, and earthquakes. Also, the article talks about the health risks of fracking/hydraulic fracturing. (Hoffman) The source is used to give examples of the effect of fracking/hydraulic fracturing and explain how fracking/hydraulic fracturing works.
  • Jabbari, Nima, et al. “Hydraulic Fracturing and the Environment: Risk Assessment for Groundwater Contamination from Well Casing Failure. Stochastic Environmental Research & Risk Assessment, vol. 31, no. 6, Aug. 2017, pp. 15271542. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1007/s00477-016-1280-0. http://ezproxy.clayton.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eih&AN=123821287&site=eds-live&scope=site/ Each author has a level of higher education; where one of the three authors studied chemical engineering and materials science at the University of Southern California, while the other two authors have studied civil and environmental engineering at the University of Southern California. The text discusses the potential effects of groundwater contamination due to fracking/hydraulic fracturing. (Jabbari) The article takes a technical look at fracking/hydraulic fracturing in the article’s problem statement. The source is used to discuss contamination due to fracking/hydraulic fracturing.
  • Lees, Zachary. “Anticipated Harm, Precautionary Regulation and Hydraulic Fracturing. Vermont Journal of Environmental Law, vol. 13, no. 3, Spring 2012, pp. 575612. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.clayton.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eih&AN=83005866&site=eds-live&scope=site. The author, Zachary Lees, is a graduate of Vermont Law School where he received a higher degree (masters or doctorate) in environmental law. Lee’s work gives a technological overview of fracking, provides two examples of legal cases involving fracking, and describes how fracking effects groundwater. The text also addresses the precautionary principle and how it applies to fracking. (Lees) The source is used to specifically describe how fracking fluids and other chemicals involved in fracking affect the environment.
  • Oil and Natural Gas Historical Society. “Shooters – A ‘Fracking’ History. American Oil & Gas Historical Society, 24 Aug. 2018, aoghs.org/technology/hydraulic-fracturing/. The American Oil & Gas Historical Society is an organization dedicated to preserving U.S. petroleum history whose members include students, teachers, researchers, journalists, and authors. The text, in chronological order, lists describes events through history related to fracking. The text describes the roots of fracking, fracking role in the Civil War and the first commercial application of fracking. (Oil and Natural Gas Historical Society.) The source is used to describe fracking in its early years.
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