By Patricia J. Lancaster, FAIA
Whether you are pro or con, there is simply not enough known about the effects of hydro-fracking to make a considered judgment. Although the first commercial use of hydro-fracking was in 1949, the main differentiating factor that makes it much less expensive now is the use of millions of gallons of fresh water per drill site, and the ability to control horizontal drilling remotely.
Secret Blend of Chemicals
The Energy Policy Act of 2005 exempted companies from many of the provisions of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act as well as exempting them from needing to disclose the chemicals pumped into the ground. Some of the chemicals are thought to be carcinogenic, perhaps even radioactive, and they are being pumped into the center of the earth and not monitored.
We now have a fair amount of documentation of our effects on the surface of the earth and the atmosphere above it, but no data exists about the effects of extraction of sub-surface natural resources like oil, gas, water and geothermal heat. To effect the release of natural gas, hydro-fracking forces hundreds of explosions into shale formations down five to ten thousand feet into the center of the earth, causing fissures which release the gas. These explosions leave behind fissures filled with sand or other foreign bodies, chemicals, and caissons. What is below the fissures, and could be forced upwards, has not been discussed or documented.
At the surface, millions of gallons of water per drill site need to be delivered, recovered chemical-laden water needs to be stored in open pits while it is treated, and the extracted natural gas needs to be stored for shipment. Also, fracking crews need sanitation, food, parking and housing. The net effects on a surface area have yet to be documented, but historical evidence leads us to believe that they will be harmful.
There Is Not “Water Everywhere”
That there is world-wide concern about the lack of available potable water is well documented elsewhere by the United Nations and others. This cannot be overstated. Is hydro-fracking the highest and best use for the millions of gallons of fresh water it consumes, when the product is a fossil fuel that is non-renewable? Also, there are no data available about the potential for the chemicals down at the fracking level to rise up into the freshwater aquifers. In a day and age when technology has produced a solar powered x-ray machine for African villages with no electrical supply source, can we not come up with tenable power sources that have a net-zero effect?
The reduction of the dependency on foreign oil is a definite plus. The positive economic benefits of jobs and sales to a fracking site are irrefutable. But, rather than calling for more fracking or less fracking, the call should be for more research into, and definitive results from, investigations into the results of hydro-fracking. Get the scientists involved, not the politicians, and demand data!
Patricia J. Lancaster is clinical professor at the NYU Schack Institute of Real Estate, and a former New York City buildings commissioner.