Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a controversial method of extracting oil and gas from shale formations. Hydraulic fracturing is a process that occurs naturally. Oil and gas companies attempt to accelerate the process to release oil or natural gas by drilling into rock formations and injecting highly pressurized fracking fluids. Fracking fluid is composed of a 98% water and sand mix. The remaining 2% contains chemical additives some of which are found in common household products. It also contains toxic components such as acid, benzene, a known carcinogen, anti-bacterial agents, clay stabilizers, and surfactants.
Wastewater from fracking may contain radium, a radioactive element, and corrosive salts, all of which occur naturally thousands of feet underground. According to a recent NY Times article, the wastewater is “sometimes hauled to sewage plants not designed to treat it and then discharged into rivers that supply drinking water.”
Unfortunately, there have been numerous cases of illegal dumping. A waste hauler in Southwest Pennsylvania was indicted in 2009 on 98 criminal counts of illegally dumping millions of gallons of wastewater from natural gas drilling. Two men recently plead guilty to dumping 200,000 gallons of wastewater down an abandoned oil well. Illegal dumping of wastewater from fracking operations can have a disastrous effect on our fisheries.
If you live in an area where fracking wells are present, be diligent in watching your waters. If you see someone illegally dumping fracking wastewater or if you spot signs of pollution such as bubbling gas, turbidity, oily surface film, or dead fish, report it immediately to your state department of environmental protection. You can find links to your state or territorial environmental agency on the EPA’s website.