Fracking was the number one environmental “hot topic” story of 2013.
Fracking was an unfamiliar word to most people, but now is a household term in much of North America. New Brunswick and Nova Scotia have been hotbeds of the Canadian resistance to shale gas and hydraulic fracturing this past year. Many people have educated themselves and their friends, family and neighbours.
Hydraulic fracturing, aka fracking, has been used for many decades; however, since the late 1990s it has a new dimension. After drilling down to the shale layer, the drill is turned and continues horizontally for up to a mile. Then begins the use of fracking fluids containing a mixture of water, sand, and highly toxic chemicals, (many of which are known or possible human carcinogens, air pollutants or cause other chronic health problems) also known as slickwater. The fluid is injected underground with a pressure sufficient to create multiple fractures in the hard shale layer of rock in order to release the natural gas. Horizontal drilling, slickwater, and extremely high pressure are all relatively new fracking techniques. Bonuses that rise to the surface include heavy metals, volatile organic compounds and radioactive elements.
The chemicals used in fracking have remained secret. This secrecy is one reason there is so little research on their health impacts. Lack of information has also made it difficult for affected individuals to prove a connection between fracking and shale gas operations to illnesses or well contamination.
There is little to no research into the health impacts of fracking and shale gas development. However, there is evidence of the health impacts in rural communities where the shale gas drilling has taking place, mostly the United States. There are reports of contaminated wells, highly polluted air, patterns of human illnesses and sick or dying farm animals in communities where shale gas drilling and fracking has taken place. Also, there is mounting evidence of the risk of contamination of the drinking water for the urban areas downstream from drilling sites.
A rather dubious attempt to thwart climate change has allowed this exploration to happen. Natural gas burns clean and doesn't release as much greenhouse gas as coal and oil, which are our main energy sources. Fracking is the method used to mine the onshore gas and oil. Fracking is a relatively cheap, although an energy intensive, way to get at inshore natural gas deposits. However, If you reread the process above – the thing that Natural Resources says may help stop climate change with cleaner natural gas just might kill us or ruin our drinking water with the extra bonus material that comes to the surface while fracking.
TAGLINE: Lisa Emery, B.A., P.C. invites comments to her columns. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.