Fracking and Water Quality

Sep 11, 2012

By Center for Western Priorities

Responsible oil and gas development necessitates stringent regulations that protect humans from the potential impacts of drilling and fracking.

  • Hydraulic fracturing—or fracking—is a contentious drilling technique used on nine out of ten gas wells in the United States.[i] The process involves pumping millions of gallons of water, mixed with sand and chemicals, into a well. The enormous volume of fluid, forced underground at very high pressures, create fractures in the rock, releasing oil and gas.
  • If fracking is to continue, it must be done in a responsible manner and on terms set by local communities. In Longmont, Colorado, for example, the City Council passed regulations to protect residents by limiting drilling near homes. The state of Colorado is litigating the new rules, contending that only the state can regulate oil and gas development.[ii]

What is in fracking fluids?

  • Fracking a new oil and gas well requires between 1 million to 5 million gallons of fracking fluid.[iii] Since chemicals constitute approximately one percent of the total fluid[iv], each well takes between 10,000 to 50,000 gallons of chemicals.
  • Researchers have identified a total of 396 dangerous chemicals used in fracking. Figure 1 illustrates the various health impacts if humans are exposed to fracking chemicals. It shows that 92 percent of the chemicals can harm the respiratory tract, 39 percent can impact the kidney and 21 percent can cause cancer.[v]

(Figure 1)[vi]

Responsible Fracking on Communities’ Terms

  • If fracking is to continue, it is critical for government to hold industry accountable with stringent rules regulating fracking to guarantee development is done safely and responsibly.
  • Responsible fracking requires oil and gas companies to disclose all fracking chemicals prior to drilling, so communities are aware of potential contaminants and can respond appropriately in the event of a chemical release.
  • Responsible fracking also includes safeguards on well construction and operations that reflect the best available science and engineering to ensure that groundwater is protected, that chemical-laden wastewater safely disposed of, and that chemicals do not endanger people.