Hydrofracking and Potential Dangers to Urban Residents

On Behalf of | Feb 27, 2012 | Oil & Gas |

Energy resources are increasingly in demand, so oil and gas drilling, once an activity left to smaller communities in rural areas, is beginning to affect (and has been for some time) more densely populated areas of the U.S.

Unfortunately, the associated risks to local residents are also on the rise.

Urban and suburban populations were, up until now, relatively safe from the side effects off fossil fuel exploration. However, oil and gas exploration is becoming more common in these high-risk areas.

Fossil fuel exploration can have serious consequences to the environment, consequences which are particularly dangerous to the residents that are closest in physical proximity to the actual drilling project. These environmental dangers include:

  • Excessive air pollution
  • Tainted water supplies
  • Sound pollution and aesthetic issues

What Is Hydrofracking?

Hydrofracking, an industry term for hydraulic fracturing, is the process of pumping sand, water and chemicals through shale rock. This breaks up the rock and shale formations and releases oil and gas trapped in underground reservoirs beneath the shale.

Hydrofracking uses drilling along with explosive charges to drill down into rock formations, at which point cement and steel casings are installed. The process is then repeated until the drilling reaches the oil and gas supplies that were not initially accessible. Although the casings are meant to protect the water reservoirs from the toxic chemicals used in the process, it’s not a foolproof method.

Oil and gas exploration companies use this method to make directional drilling operations profitable again after their output under safer methods of extraction has declined.

More commonly, however, hydrofracking is being used to exploit the Eagle Ford Shale and Barnett Shale formations. Up until the recent development of hydrofracking, it was not profitable to extract oil and gas from shale rock.

Deregulation of the oil and gas industry is often cited as the reason this kind of dangerous extraction is now possible, especially in highly populated areas.

Energy Policy Act of 2005

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 made oil and gas industries exempt from the following environmental protection acts in the U.S.:

  • Clean Air Act
  • Resource Conservation and Recovery Act
  • Clean Water Act
  • Safe Drinking Water Act

Removing safeguards and regulations has opened up the market to hydrofracking, which has been a boom for some local towns, oil and gas workers, and the energy industry as a whole.

As the same time, however, many experts are concerned about the potential contamination of safe drinking water supplies from hydrofracking. From an environmental perspective, hydrofracking poses potential risk of injury to the population.

In short, we just don’t know yet whether the benefits outweigh the dangers.