How big is the fracking industry?

Environment America have produced a report which gives a startling picture of the extent of fracking in US and some of the impacts caused by this industry.  [Download report] “Fracking by the Numbers” needs wide circulation – the scale of the industry and its use of land, water and chemicals is not realised; neither is the scale of the impacts of fracking on water use and contamination as well as air emissions.  The following is a synopsis:

National Environmental and Public Health Impacts of Fracking

• Fracking Wells since 2005 82,000
• Toxic Wastewater Produced in 2012 (billion gallons) 280
• Water Used since 2005 (billion gallons) 250
• Chemicals Used since 2005 (billion gallons) 2
• Air Pollution in One Year (tons) 450,000
• Land Directly Damaged since 2005 (acres) 360,000

Toxic wastewater:

Fracking produces enormous volumes of toxic wastewater—often containing cancer-causing and even radioactive material. Once brought to the surface, this toxic waste poses hazards for drinking water, air quality and public safety:

  • Fracking wells nationwide produced an estimated 280 billion gallons of wastewater in 2012.
  • This toxic wastewater often contains cancer-causing and even radioactive materials, and has contaminated drinking water sources from Pennsylvania to New Mexico. In New Mexico alone, waste pits from all oil and gas drilling have contaminated groundwater on more than 400 occasions.
  • Scientists have linked underground injection of wastewater to earthquakes.
Water use:

Fracking requires huge volumes of water for each well.

  • Fracking operations have used at least 250 billion gallons of water since 2005.
  • While most industrial uses of water return it to the water cycle for further use, fracking converts clean water into toxic wastewater, much of which must then be permanently disposed of, taking billions of gallons out of the water supply annually.
  • Farmers are particularly impacted by fracking water use as they compete with the deep-pocketed oil and gas industry for water, especially in drought-stricken regions of the country.
Chemical use:

Fracking uses a wide range of chemicals, many of them toxic.

  • Operators have hauled more than 2 billion gallons of chemicals to thousands of fracking sites around the country.
  • In addition to other health threats, many of these chemicals have the potential to cause cancer.
  • These toxics can enter drinking water supplies from leaks and spills, through well blowouts, and through the failure of disposal wells receiving fracking wastewater.
Air pollution:

Fracking-related activities release thousands of tons of health-threatening air pollution.

  • Nationally, fracking released 450,000 tons of pollutants into the air that can have immediate health impacts.
  • Air pollution from fracking contributes to the formation of ozone “smog,” which reduces lung function among healthy people, triggers asthma attacks, and has been linked to increases in school absences, hospital visits and premature death. Other air pollutants from fracking and the fossil-fuel-fired machinery used in fracking have been linked to cancer and other serious health effects.
Global warming pollution:

Fracking produces significant volumes of global warming pollution.

  • Methane, which is a global warming pollutant 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, is released at multiple steps during fracking, including during hydraulic fracturing and well completion, and in the processing and transport of gas to end users.
  • Global warming emissions from completion of fracking wells since 2005 total an estimated 100 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent.
Damage to our natural heritage:

Well pads, new access roads, pipelines and other infrastructure turn forests and rural landscapes into industrial zones.

  • Infrastructure to support fracking has damaged 360,000 acres of land for drilling sites, roads and pipelines since 2005.
  • Forests and farmland have been replaced by well pads, roads, pipelines and other gas infrastructure, resulting in the loss of wildlife habitat and fragmentation of remaining wild areas. In Colorado, fracking has already damaged 57,000 acres of land, equal to one-third of the acreage in the state’s park system.
  • The oil and gas industry is seeking to bring fracking into our national forests, around several of our national parks, and in watersheds that supply drinking water to millions of Americans.
Fracking has additional impacts not quantified here

—including contamination of residential water wells by fracking fluids and methane leaks; vehicle and workplace accidents, earthquakes and other public safety risks; and economic and social damage including ruined roads and damage to nearby farms.

To address the environmental and public health threats from fracking across the nation:

States should prohibit fracking. Given the scale and severity of fracking’s myriad impacts, constructing a regulatory regime sufficient to protect the environment and public health from dirty drilling—much less enforcing such safeguards at more than 80,000 wells, plus processing and waste disposal sites across the country—seems implausible. In states where fracking is already underway, an immediate moratorium is in order. In all other states, banning fracking is the prudent and necessary course to protect the environment and public health.

• Given the drilling damage that state officials have allowed fracking to incur thus far, at a minimum, federal policymakers must step in and close the loopholes exempting fracking from key provisions of our nation’s environmental laws.

• Federal officials should also protect America’s natural heritage by keeping fracking away from our national parks, national forests, and sources of drinking water for millions of Americans.

• To ensure that the oil and gas industry—rather than taxpayers, communities or families—pays the costs of fracking damage, policymakers should require robust financial assurance from fracking operators at every well site.

More complete data on fracking should be collected and made available to the public, enabling us to understand the full extent of the harm that fracking causes to our environment and health.

Defining “Fracking”

In this report, when we refer to the impacts of “fracking,” we include impacts resulting from all of the activities needed to bring a shale gas or oil well into production using high-volume hydraulic fracturing (fracturing operations that use at least 100,000 gallons of water), to operate that well, and to deliver the gas or oil produced from that well to market. The oil and gas industry often uses a more restrictive definition of “fracking” that includes only the actual moment in the extraction process when rock is fractured—a definition that obscures the broad changes to environmental, health and community conditions that result from the use of fracking in oil and gas extraction.

The UK is exploring its shale gas future, we should NOT do the same

Good Energies Alliance Ireland Launch Glenfarne 16th February 2012

Response to Aaron McKenna’s column in The (23rd March 2013)

 Mr McKenna was obviously briefed on fracking by the US oil/gas industry when he wrote this article as he quotes their propaganda extensively and when it comes to Ireland, has done little research himself. The article is a deliberate attempt to get us to assume that fracking is inevitable, good for us economically and that shale gas is the clean fuel of the future. We completely refute those assumptions.
Some important points:
  • Shale gas is Methane, which has a global warming effect 25 times that of carbon dioxide.  Whereas methane when burned is a cleaner fuel than oil or coal, fugitive emissions from fracking and gas transport systems are serious problems.  Howarth et al (2011)[1] calculate that during the life cycle of an average shale-gas well, 3.6 to 7.9% of the total production of the well is emitted to the atmosphere as methane, resulting in a greenhouse gas footprint more than that of coal over a 20 year period.
  • No fossil fuel is a “clean fuel”.  This is industry hype.  All fossil fuels contribute to global warming and shale gas is no exception.
  • The statement that “People living on top of shale gas reserves can win big” is not true in Ireland.  Unlike the US, Irish landowners do not own the mineral or gas rights under their land and will not be entitled to royalties or massive leases.  Any leases will be only for a few short years and the landowners will then be left with unusable land for which they will be responsible.  The only real winners are the oil/gas companies.  The gas would be sold into the international market and the Government would get the second lowest royalties in the world from declared profits.
  • The preliminary EPA report on fracking[2] said in its summary that ” there is a low and probably manageable risk to ground water from fracking …” This referred to the hydraulic fracturing stage of shale gas extraction, not to its life cycle, which includes land preparation, drilling, wastewater disposal, and gas treatment and transportation.  In addition, this conclusion was based on a report from Texas which has been subsequently discredited.[3]
  • European shale gas could not be sold cheaply The price of gas in the US has more to do with a glut of gas than the cost of production, which is actually 4 times its retail cost.  The cost of establishing a shale gas industry in Ireland would be huge and imposed “improved” regulations would also add costs to production.  Examination of models produced by Tamboran indicate that strict regulations could drive the price up to €16 per mBTU.
  • The whole US industry is a bubble scenario very much on the same lines as the sub-prime property bubble that has been shown to be totally unsustainable.[4]  Why would we have a repetition of the same system that already has had such disastrous consequences for our people and economy?Irish Exploration Licences come with the guarantee to allow exploitation of commercially viable reserves.   We should not go ahead with Exploration while the process has so many unknowns associated with it, in particular its impact on human and animal health.  Our agri-food and tourism sectors are far too valuable to be put at risk.  Better wait until independent peer-reviewed studies show that shale gas can be extracted without risk to the environment, people’s health or the national economy and then see if the burning of this valuable resource is the best use we can make of it.


Ireland has a unique situation on the edge of Europe, with the potential for development of a carbon-neutral society by 2050, as proposed by the National Economic and Social Council (NESC). [5]

 “To achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 we must act now to create:

  1. An energy system built on wind and other renewables, using a smart grid and integrated into a clean EU energy system;
  2. An energy-efficient society that uses renewable forms of energy for heating;
  3. A sustainable transport system which serves economic, societal and environmental needs;
  4. A world-class agri-food sector working within a carbon-neutral system of agriculture, forestry and land use; and
  5. An approach to resource management that provides a competitive and comparative advantage in international trade and factor flows.”
The NESC report concluded that “Ireland has an opportunity to be a real leader by building an institutional architecture suited to the nature of the climate-change policy problem and the major ways in which progress on ‘how to’ achieve decarbonisation is made.”
This is where we should be turning our attention, not looking to short-term fossil fuel extraction, with negative impacts on the environment, health and the reputation of our country, to put off the day when we have to change our life-styles and energy sources.
Aedín McLoughlin
[1] Methane and the greenhouse-gas footprint of natural gas from shale formations. Robert W. Howarth, Renee Santoro, and Anthony Ingraffea. Cornell University, Ithaca (April 2011)
[2] Hydraulic Fracturing or ‘Fracking’: A Short Summary of Current Knowledge and Potential Environmental Impacts  EPA Preliminary Report (12 May 2012)
[3] Fact-Based Regulation for Environmental Protection in Shale Gas Development. The Energy Institute, The University of Texas at Austin (February 2012)
[4] Drill, Baby Drill. Can Unconventional Fuels usher in a New Era of Energy Abundance? J. David Hughes. Post Carbon Institute February ‘13
[5] Ireland and the Climate Change Challenge: Connecting ‘How Much’ with ‘How To’ Final Report of the NESC Secretariat to the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government. Dec’12


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