The Effects Hydraulic Fracturing Has On Our Surrounding Ecosystem


There are large amounts of Earth’s natural gases and oils being used, and people continue to try and find more beneath the Earth’s surface. There is still more left in shale formations, some located in western New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. There is an amount that is believed to last for just under 50 years. The use of fracking has given the United States access to more oil faster than it has before (Cook and Perrin, 2016). Fracking c be harmful to our environment, mostly our water and air. Fracking has been known to have some side effects. These side effects could pollute water, air, and sometimes even cause earth quakes and tremors. It is important for people to know how fracking can be dangerous so that these dangers can be avoided.

What is Fracking?

Fracking is the method of drilling in far down reservoirs where the gas is trapped and does not flow out on its own. Fracking, otherwise known as hydraulic fracturing, is done by a water mixture being forced into a deep narrow hole known as a borehole, under high pressure. Once the mixture reaches the rock formation where gases are located, the mixture fractures the rock formations. The water mixture may contain sand or ceramic beads that open pores in the rock formation and keep them open after the pressure ceases. While the sand and ceramic beads are held in place, the gas moves upward the drilling pipeline. After the pressure has been released, the sand and ceramic beads are in place, the water will be withdrawn, the mixture will be different than it was going down which could affect drinking water sources if the waste water were to come in contact with drinking water.

Water Quality

The first thing that people think about with fracking pollution is that their drinking water could become contaminated from the chemical mixture that is used in the process. However, it is less likely for drinking water to become contaminated than you would think. Drinking water deposits are usually not anywhere near where the shale rock mining would be held and would have many different layers of bedrock to go through. Although there are some shallower shale deposits that could be vulnerable to becoming contaminated because they don’t have as much bedrock to go through.

Water is sourced to the fracking site, brought in by truckloads to the wellheads for fracking of the shale to begin the process to achieve gas production, over a million barrels of brine (water that has been produced or flowback water that has been collected) which must be reused to disposed of safely, as well as all the sludge that come up along with the water. Considering that regular methods or water treatment don’t normally deal with chemicals and other hazardous materials from fracking, water and waste management take up a large sum of the annual operating costs of shale gas development, it is important to be sure that it is economical and environmentally accessible to manage the resulting water and other resulting waste.

While retrieving water it is important to know where the water is coming from to ensure water is safe for other purposes other than fracking, seeing that where the water is from is not just used for hydrohalic fracturing. The water that is used for fracking is on average fresh water from lakes or rivers, it can also originate from groundwater, municipal water supplies, and recycled fracturing water that has been treated can be used as well. There are many shale gas basins located where precipitation is relatively high. However, even if these shale gas are located in high precipitation areas, that does not mean that they can ignore the need of water in other industrial aspects, and weather will always be a factor if water is easily accessible, if the water is frozen it would be almost easier to import from an area where it is not frozen.

It is important to know where the water is coming from, if the water comes from a small body of water such as a small stream will have a bigger impact on local environment and wildlife than taking from a large river or lake. As well as water being taken form a small stream, if water waste runs off into a small stream, there will be a bigger impact on that local environment because it would not be able to dilute itself with the rest of the body of water.

Air Pollution

State emission inventories have proven that oil and natural gas fracturing have been shown to produce large amounts of local air pollution, as well as shale gas operations could possibly lead to having raised levels of ozone and hazards air pollutants. A study done by the Colorado Department of Public Health has showed that in 2008 Colorado emission inventory was responsible for 48% of volatile organic compounds, 18% of Nitrogen oxides, and15% of benzene emissions.

The events that lead up to fracking produce more air pollution than most other parts of fracking. Some of the air pollutants are the natural gases themselves escaping which can release volatile organic compounds and hazardous air pollutants. There are also the emissions produced by all the machinery that is used for fracking, which produce often nitrogen oxides. Even though all of these pollutants are proven to be present, there impact of emissions in not proven to have a direct impact.. Such as with the elevated levels of benzene; while the substance is present near production sites, there are no levels above the health-based screening levels..

Methane emissions were lessened with a method called flaring, which involves sending flowback water into a open pit or tank where gas is safely combusted air pollutants.. Doing so has helped to reduce up to 90% of greenhouse gas emissions, as compared to venting. Volatile Organic Compounds and hazardous air pollutants are reduced through this method, but because of the burning methane, nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxides are produced to take its place.. Flaring may seem as a great method to reduce methane in the atmosphere, some see it as a waste of methane which when it burns, creates more green house gases..


Waste water disposal is a huge part in being sure that fracking is done safely, how it is done depends on availability of suitable injection wells. For example, areas were fracturing are done in Pennsylvania have a lack of availability for suitable waste water wells, so it must be transported to Ohio for safe disposal in Class II injection wells. Having water put into injection wells has been linked to seismic activity otherwise known as earth quakes, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Recourses. Other studies done in Arkansas have been proven to be linked to local earthquakes there. Injection activities have since been halted in wells in Arkansas and Ohio. However, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, if the well is properly located they should not cause earthquakes and termers. Before an earthquake is to occur at the site, there must be a fault that exist nearby and be practically failing state of stress. For an earthquake or termer to occur the injection site must have a path to the fault, and the fluid flow rate must be enough with enough pressure to cause failure in the fault.


Fracking if done wrong, or without care could cause more problems than first thought out. Fracking in its self is safe. However, it is when flowback water is ill disposed of, or the well site is drilled wrong when there stare to be problems. When water is disposed of improperly it could contaminate local ground water or drinking water. All the traffic from the equipment used for fracking causes a lot of carbon emissions, bringing emissions that aren’t innately thought of when drilling. Using flaring they keep methane from entering our atmosphere, but when that is done carbon monoxide escapes into the atmosphere as well as other combustion gases. Earthquakes and tremors are not a normal reaction from fracking, and normally only happens if there is a fault nearby at a nearly failing state. There must be a path to the fault and a way for fluid to reach said fault under enough pressure to cause seismic activity.


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  • What is fracking and why is it controversial?. 2015. BBC News.
16 December 2021
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