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Environmental Studies

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What is Fracking?

Hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking is currently one of the most popular ways of removing oil and natural gas from the earth. To begin the process a vertical hole is drilled several kilometers into the ground, once the oil or natural gas rich layer of rock is reached, the drill bit turns horizontal and continues to drill. Once the certain vertical height, and horizontal length of the hole is achieved, it is encased in a layer of steel and/or concrete to help prevent oil, natural gas and a mix of water and chemicals from seeping into the ground on its way through the pipe. Once the hole is complete, liquid is pumped into the hole at an extremely high pressure, sometimes exceeding 9,000 pounds per square inch. The liquid contains a mix of water, chemicals, detergents, salt, lubricants, and other small amounts of potentially hazardous materials. After the fluid reaches the horizontal part of the pipe, it begins to fracture the rock that contains the oil and gas. This process allows the oil and gas to be released from the rock and flow back to the surface along with the slurry of water and chemicals which is also known as ‘flowback liquid’.

What environmental effects does fracking have on North America?

Dangers Of Fracking

The effect on fresh drinking water is the most dangerous side effects to fracking. There are several ways that the fracking process impacts water in North America, first off each well will use between two to eight million gallons of fresh water every time a hole is drilled. To move this water to the site four hundred to six hundred tanker trucks have to move the water which also causes air pollution. The real problem begins after drilling starts, once the waste water flows back to the surface the water is hauled to a ‘disposal well’ which is drilled thousands of feet into the ground and filled with the millions of gallons of water used during the drilling, which is mixed with toxic and hazardous chemicals. The waste water often will flow back into underground reservoirs, rivers and streams that locals take drinking water from.


Hydraulic Fracturing is used worldwide but has become extremely popular in North America. In Canada fracking is used mainly in Alberta and the southern areas of Saskatchewan and Manitoba along with parts of British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec. (Pictured in Top Map) The United states has seen a major increase in the use of fracking in the last decade and is the most commonly used in the central and eastern states where most of the oil and gas bearing shale is found. (Pictured in Bottom Map)


Fracking is responsible for major negative side effects to the enviorment and communities that surround the well sites. water quality can quickly become a problem due to fracking because of the improper disposal of the liquid that contains toxic chemicals. There has been more than 1000 documented cases of polluted water in the U.S, this water can contain radioactive materials and is known to have methane levels up to 17 times higher than in areas without well sites. Infact, methane levels have reached such high levels that locals are able to light their tap water with a match and litterally watch the water burst into flame. (see video below)



Fracking has had major effects on the economy across North America. The increase in fracking wells over the last 10 years has turned many small towns into bustling areas with great oppourtunites. Fracking is a great source of income for workers and In 2012 there were 2.9 million people employed in fracking related jobs in the U.S. Fracking has also added about about $284 billion to GDP in the U.S.

This graph shows the increase in the amount of natural gas that has been surfaced using fracking.

Fracking's social effects have been relitivley negative. In Pennsylvania a study was conducted to find that there was a increase in traffic accidents, civic disturbances and public health problem since 2005. Along with that, the major increase in poplation in many small communites has affected residents that called these small communites home before the boom as they have had to adapt from living in a once quiet area to a large, busy and over populated town. Some of these residents are concerned for what will come after the oil and gas boom when they will be left to repair and clean up there town.

Should it be banned?

Becasue of it many dangers, many people think fracking should be banned accross North America. In May of 2012, Vermont was the first state to completly ban fracking state wide. Two years later, New York became the second state to ban fracking after after recieving more than 200,000 comments on the topic. Banning fracking across North America could save the enviroment and people from the pollution that it causes, but some wonder if it is already to late and that the damage done cannot be reversed.


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