Water quality is under threat from fracking

The water quality is under threat from fracking

The water quality is under threat from fracking

The water quality is under threat from fracking as well as the quantity available. Many chemicals used in the fracking fluid (the composition of which is often protected for commercial confidentiality reasons) have increasingly been found to be harmful both to the environment and to human health, yet poor regulations and legislation governing in the USA fracking often allow accidents which contaminate surrounding water sources. 

Dr Allan Hoffman, Professor EM Gustav Olsson, of Lund University, and Andreas Lindström, of Stockholm International Water Institute, just written a report entitled, ‘Shale Gas and Hydraulic Fracturing: Framing the Water Issue.’ The focus is fracking’s impact on water quality.

In the US, the shale gas industry is exempt from regulations under the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the industry does not have to disclose what chemicals it is pumping into the ground.

Shale gas is so abundant, and production costs so cheap compared to other fuel sources, that the authors predict the boom is just beginning.

One of the questions yet to be answered, is:

“the climate impacts of methane leaks during fracking operations and of CO2 released when methane is combusted… as well as the risks of contamination and depletion of water resources” (p 7)

According to the team there have been several mishaps with hydraulic fracturing affecting groundwater aquifers. ‘Often the regulations have been far from strict and not strongly enforced by the regulators’.


One of the examples cited is the six earthquakes, ranging from 2.6 to 3.8 in intensity, that hit Oklahoma during a two day period in April 2014. Oklahoma Geological Survey experienced the first four months of 2014 more earthquakes (252) than it dit in the entirety of 2013, which broke the records with 222 recorded quakes.

Excesses can be eliminated

The authors believe most of the excesses can be eliminated. The government needs to develop codes of conduct and regulatory systems which should be adopted by all nations currently exploiting or liable to exploit shale resources as part of their energy supply.


The authors of this report conclude: “… The financial and other benefits of fracking are too great to stop it, despite the risks, and we will have to deal with fracking for many decades ahead. Investments in fracking are also likely to delay needed global investments in clean energy (efficiency and renewables). Careful understanding of the full spectrum of risks, and strict regulation of fracking at national, regional and local levels will be required.

Given the costs involved in ameliorating risks we can expect some attempted shortcuts by extraction companies (especially smaller companies with limited financial resources) and occasion accidents. However this is true of other energy sources as well and is an inevitable part of supplying energy needs. It will be society’s job to create disincentives for these shortcuts, and to educate the public about the risks and tradeoffs, and to keep the pressure on the extraction companies and government officials to adhere to and enforce regulations.”

The report is published by the Swedish International Water Institute

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