Earlier this year, an oil well blowout in rural Alberta was traced back to a hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) operation over half a mile away. This event added oil and chemical spills to the mounting environmental impacts of the highly controversial fracking process on the environment, which already included water contamination and even earthquakes.
Fracking involves the injection of pressurized water, sand, chemicals and solid objects (known as frac- balls) into the ground to disturb existing geological formations and release natural gas that may be trapped underground. While it is often described as a sophisticated engineering process, the variables and potential long-term impacts of fracking are difficult to measure. Fracking proponents will argue that the process and the fractures it creates in the ground are contained. The gushing oil well investigated in Alberta suggests this is not the case. So too, do the numerous reports of contaminated ground water in U.S. and Canadian communities near fracking activities.
Are the fracking experts rolling the dice (or frac-balls) when they force these toxic cocktails into unstable formations or when they accidentally hit aquifiers? While oil and gas companies have long denied any link between fracking and contaminated water, the Environmental Protection agency (EPA) has identified a link between the two, based on fracking activity taking place in Wyoming. If nothing else, government agencies and regulators in both countries should be concerned with the massive amount of water used in the fracking mixture.
As is often the case in energy extraction, the true cost of the process is not measured because this would require accounting for the consumption of one free resource (water) to generate an energy commodity. It would also require accounting for the visible and hidden damage fracking causes to the landscape.