Evidence Mounts Against Fracking Processes

Another scientific article linking hydraulic fracturing processes to Oklahoma earthquakes has been released just as HBO begins broadcasting a documentary showing how these processes can contaminate water and contribute to global warming.

Here in Oklahoma, where energy companies have a gushing political influence, this might not mean much at the moment, but it seems clear that hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, and its wastewater processes, are facing greater scrutiny throughout the world from scientists and environmental activists. Could fracking be prohibited one day in this country because of the dangers of earthquakes, water contamination and pollution? It could happen, but energy companies, supported by powerful politicians, such as Oklahoma’s U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, will obviously put up a tremendous fight.

Fracking is a process in which water is mixed with chemicals and other products and then injected into the ground at a high pressure. This creates “fractures” in rock formations that can release natural gas and oil.

Last year, University of Oklahoma professor and seismologist Katie Keranen argued in an academic paper that a Nov. 6, 2011 earthquake, measured at 5.7 on the Richter scale, near Prague was likely caused by fracking processes. I wrote about that here. Now, a new study argues that a 2010 earthquake in Chile eventually led to that Oklahoma earthquake because of underground disposal fluids left over in injection wells, according to an article in The New York Times.

Injection wells, or brine disposal wells, are created by the massive wastewater of fracking and can cause instability in fault lines that lead to seismic activity.

The new article, written by Nicholas J. van der Elst and colleagues at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, was published in Science. It argues that a major increase in earthquakes in the central and eastern United States in recent years can be linked to the injection wells caused by fracking, and uses Oklahoma earthquakes and other earthquakes in the U.S. as examples.

You might think that the earthquake issue alone would make government regulators skeptical of fracking, but there’s also the real danger of water contamination and pollution as depicted by Gasland Part II, a sequel documentary created by filmmaker Josh Fox, now airing on Home Box Office.

According to Gasland Part II’s site:

The film argues that the gas industry’s portrayal of natural gas as a clean and safe alternative to oil is a myth and that fracked wells inevitably leak over time, contaminating water and air, hurting families, and endangering the earth’s climate with the potent greenhouse gas, methane.

Fox’s first film on fracking, Gasland, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary in 2011. It also earned him the ire of the oil and gas industry, which attacked the film for supposed inaccuracies.

Gasland Part II is a powerful film that humanizes the result of water contamination on regular people who live close to fracking wells. It also draws larger conclusions about how the federal government and our overall culture has a history of dismissing basic scientific information, much like it did with cigarette smoking, because of corporate money and influence. Our energy policy in this country is dictated by corporations interested in profits, not public safety or long-term strategies.

What should seem clear to most anyone outside the energy industry is that fracking and its processes need more study and more government regulation. Unfortunately, the federal Environmental Protection Agency recently dropped a study trying to determine if fracking processes contaminated an aquifer in Wyoming and has delayed an overall study about the issue.

How much did the powerful oil and gas industry influence this decision, and what will it take before more people become aware of the environmental hazards created by fracking?
Why can’t President Barack Obama, now in his second term, take the lead on this issue? What does he have to lose?