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Oscar Davila

ENGR 482-904
3/19/2014

Differing Viewpoints Essay: Hydraulic Fracturing


The choice between economic prosperity and environmental responsibility has come to
be an increasingly important dilemma in recent years. One of the reasons for this is due to the
shale gas revolution which has gripped the country. This revolution has been made possible
through the development and advancement of many oil and gas exploration technologies.
Hydraulic fracturing is one of the most important of these developed technologies and also the
most controversial. The main controversy surrounding this process is potential water
contamination. Many people worry if the large amounts of toxic chemicals that must be pumped
into the ground during the process have the potential to contaminate the water table. Another
issue that some believe can be attributed to hydraulic fracturing is earthquakes. The argument is
that the process of hydraulic fracturing is indirectly fueling a pandemic of earthquakes across the
country. These quakes are not caused by the actual hydraulic fracturing process but instead
caused by the reinjection of the waste water from hydraulic fracturing back into the ground into
wastewater disposal wells. These two arguments against hydraulic fracturing are legitimate
concerns and will be further explored and explained in the following paragraphs.
Water contamination of any kind is a very serious problem. We as humans need water in
order to live and also rely on this valuable resource to grow our crops and perform many other
industrial activities. In order to understand how hydraulic fracturing could potentially
contaminate ground water, I will first explain the hydraulic fracturing process. Hydraulic
fracturing is not a new method in the oil and gas industry to stimulate a well. In fact, this process
has been around since the late 1940s, although it has become more developed in recent decades

Oscar Davila
ENGR 482-904
3/19/2014
[1]. Hydraulic fracturing is a process by which natural gas and oil wells are stimulated by the
fracturing of the rock through a highly pressurized mixture of water, sand, and chemicals. This
fracture of the rock formations which hold the oil and natural gas allows for the hydrocarbons to
more easily escape from the formations. This in turn maximizes the lifespan and production of
the well. Now that the hydraulic fracturing process has been explained, I will discuss the
argument that hydraulic fracturing can lead to ground water contamination which is advocated by
many opponents to this process. The main idea behind this argument is that ground water can be
contaminated by the chemical infused water used during hydraulic fracturing. High-volume
fracking uses more than 100,000 gallons of hydraulic fracturing fluid, so contamination is a big
issue [2]. This large quantity of water presents an obvious hazard because even if only a small
percentage leaked into the ground water supply there would still be a great deal of
contamination. There are many ways in which this leakage can occur. One of the easiest ways
for the hazardous chemical infused water to contaminate the water table or aquifers is through
improperly constructed wells. If a well is not drilled correctly and the protective casing is not
cemented properly, then there could ultimately be pathways for the harmful water to reach the
water table. Another way in which water contamination can occur is through natural fracture
networks. Many geological rock formations have natural fractures which my link up with the
fractures formed during the hydraulic fracturing process [3]. With time, these connected fracture
lines can lead to pathways in the rock allowing for the gas, oil, and harmful water to seep into the
groundwater. Another common way in which the groundwater could become contaminated with
toxic chemicals is through spills and leaks of the hydraulic fracturing fluids on the surface during
the actual process. The hazardous chemicals used during the process are stored in tanks or pits
and have the potential to leak and spill. Also the pipes and valves used to connect the pump to

Oscar Davila
ENGR 482-904
3/19/2014
the well head can potentially leak the toxic chemicals onto the ground. Through this brief
analysis of some potential ways in which water contamination can occur it is obvious that this is
a serious problem, and the frequent use of hydraulic fracturing should be seriously contemplated.
The final argument against hydraulic fracturing that I will explore is the claim that this
process indirectly causes earthquakes. The actual hydraulic fracturing process itself does not
cause earthquakes but there seems to be a valid claim that the reinjection of the waste water from
hydraulic fracturing back into wastewater disposal wells does. There have been many studies
that have correlated earthquakes with the location of these disposal wells, and there appears to be
a connection. A study conducted in Colorado found a strong correlation between the triggering
of earthquakes and wastewater injection. The correlation was so direct and strong that when
wastewater injection was stopped, the earthquakes ceased as well. The principle behind the cause
of these earthquakes is believed to be due to the reduction in frictional resistance along the fault
plane by lubrication [4]. In other words, the injection of this wastewater causes earthquakes by
lubricating the fault lines which leads to slipping. The fact that there are thousands of these
injection wells across the nation with millions of gallons of water being pumped into these sites
causes room for alarm. Everyday more and more wastewater is produced through hydraulic
fracturing and injected into disposal wells. This is sure to increase the frequency of these
earthquake if something is not done. Since the shale gas revolution is in full swing across the
nation, it is important that this earthquake issue be resolved as quickly as possible.
In conclusion, hydraulic fracturing is a questionable process which can lead to some very
detrimental consequences. The two arguments presented show the harmful environmental
impacts that hydraulic fracturing can lead to. The contamination of groundwater from hydraulic
fracturing can occur through multiple different processes when due care is not taken. Even when
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Oscar Davila
ENGR 482-904
3/19/2014
appropriate care is taken to avoid contamination, it may still occur through linkage between
natural fractures in the rock formation and the fractures induced during the hydraulic fracturing
process. The earthquakes caused from the injection of hydraulic fracturing wastewater into
disposal wells is another very serious problem associated with this process. These earthquakes
have the potential to cause large amounts of damage to surrounding towns and cities, and these
earthquakes can even cause death if the tremors are large enough. Therefore, hydraulic
fracturing should be used with great caution and the question of whether the benefit provided by
this process is worth the risk must be seriously examined.

Oscar Davila
ENGR 482-904
3/19/2014
Works Cited
1. Spellman, Frank R. Environmental Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing. Boca Raton, FL:

CRC, 2013. Print.


2. Crawford, Mark. "Fracturing Rocks to Unlock New Oil." Mechanical EngineeringCIME 1 Dec. 2013: 24-29. Print
3. Myers, T. "Hydraulic Fracturing Can Potentially Contaminate Drinking Water
Sources."NRDC:. N.p., 5 July 2012. Web. 19 Mar. 2014.
4. Daneshy, A. "Can Hydraulic Fracturing Cause Earthquakes?" World Oil (2012):
18-20. ProQuest. 5 Mar. 2012. Web. 19 Mar. 2014.