Hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking, is a procedure where workers pump high-pressure water into natural gas reserves that sit deep underground. It serves to break up the rock and make the natural gas easier to mine.
There are a few supposed issues with fracking: That it so pollutes tap water that the liquid can catch fire if a match is lit near it; That it unleashes toxic chemicals which contaminate our ground water; and that it causes earthquakes.
It’s true that holding a match next to a running tap that contains enough methane – the main ingredient in natural gas – will result in a burst of flames. However, whether this can be pinned on fracking is doubtful.
Water wells are shallow, whereas fracking takes place miles underground. There are usually several layers or rock formations between where the fracking takes place and where well water resides. There’s little if any transfer of gas or liquid between these two stratum, which are separated by many rock layers.
The burning of water can happen anytime wells are near an area housing natural gas. Mining of this gas can cause methane to move from a high-pressure area to a lower-pressure one. Also, an inadequate seal on natural gas wells may leak methane. This is especially likely to occur near old, abandoned wells.
Now, onto the assertion that fracking pumps hundreds of poisonous chemicals into the ground. Water makes up at least 98 percent of fracking fluid. Another one percent consists of a proppant, which is mostly sand. The rest of the fracking fluid serves as a lubricant and what is used differs based on circumstance. Toxicity is determined by amount, not ingredient, and while there are trace elements used in fracking that would be hazardous in higher concentrations, they are used in safe numbers during this process.
As to earthquakes, in the strict definition, fracking causes these, but only ones so minor that they do no damage. Whenever a rock cracks underground, it qualifies as a seismic event. However, fragile shale is the main kind of rock involved and fracking drills horizontally through natural gas, not through a hard rock fault zone.
Fracking the shale to break it up is unlikely to relieve any massive forces. Rather, fracking opens up shale in a stable manner, the sand holds the fractures open, and no unstable layer results. Finally, since all this takes place miles below the surface, pressures are easily sufficient to hold the ground in place.