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What is Hydraulic Fracturing?

Hydraulic fracturing, hydrofracing, fracing, fracking, are terms that refer to the process of forcing large volumes of water with added sand and chemicals down the drilling pipe and out through holes created by explosions into the shale to crack it open and release the gas. The concern is that some of the chemicals used are toxic and may get into underground aquifers that supply drinking water. No one can see what is underground, and there are a number of ways the fracking water could migrate: through faults in the layers of rock, through abandoned mines, and through old abandoned gas wells Methane can also migrate by these ways.


Fracturing Process

There is a major controversy, including numerous lawsuits, about whether this process is contaminating groundwater and people's wells.

A 2004 EPA study is routinely used to dismiss complaints that hydraulic-fracturing fluids might be responsible for the water problems. The study concluded that hydraulic fracturing posed "no threat" to underground drinking water because fracturing fluids aren't necessarily hazardous and can't travel far underground, and that there is "no unequivocal evidence" of a health risk.

But documents obtained by ProPublica show that the EPA negotiated directly with the gas industry before finalizing those conclusions and then ignored evidence that fracking might cause the kinds of water problems now being recorded in drilling states.

Buried deep within the 424-page report are statements explaining that fluids migrated unpredictably and that some of the chemicals involved "can cause kidney, liver, heart, blood, and brain damage through prolonged or repeated exposure."

One of the areas of controversy has been over release of the names of the chemicals that are used. They vary among contractors, who have claimed that the information is proprietary. Halliburton even threatened to pull out of Colorado if they forced the release of fracking chemicals, but have become available.

Source:  Environmental Protection Agency.  2004.  EPA's study Evaluation of Impacts of Underground Sources of Drinking Water by Hydraulic Fracturing of Coalbed Methane Reservoirs.  Table 4-1.



Source:  Environmental Protection Agency.  2004.  EPA's study Evaluation of Impacts of Underground Sources of Drinking Water by Hydraulic Fracturing of Coalbed Methane Reservoirs.  Table 4-2.


Hydraulic fracturing was developed by Halliburton. In 2005, at the urging of Dick Cheney, former Halliburton CEO, Congress exempted fracking from the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) as part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. In 2001, Cheney’s office was involved in discussions about how fracturing should be portrayed in the [EPA] report."  Halliburton earns about $1.5 BILLION annually from hydraulic fracturing.

There has been legislation introduced to repeal the “Halliburton loophole. Called the ‘‘Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act or Frack Act, but it has not passed.  Hopefully it will be reintroduced in the next Congress. 

Recently the EPA has agreed that there are serious concerns from citizens and their representatives about hydraulic fracturing’s potential impact on drinking water, human health and the environment, which demands further study:



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