Recently, in the press and scientific publications, the term ‘shale revolution’ is often found. This term means the introduction of extraction of gas from shale deposits into production technology in the United States at the beginning of the 21st century. Today, shale gas production by hydraulic fracturing or fracking appeared in the list of technologies that are popular unloved. Fracking is a method of injecting water under high pressure to extract natural gas from the cracked layer. Hydraulic fracturing is criticized in the world quite extensively as a dangerous method, which is even banned in several countries. Hydraulic fracturing is accused of using toxic components, which pollute the environment, and trigger earthquakes. Opponents of the technique argue that the result of using hydraulic fracturing would be methane pollution of drinking water to the explosive state. In addition, a defilement with toxins can cause unknown disease. Although it is believed that fracking could enable the United States to become energy independent, it is a dangerous process and the associated risks outweigh possible benefits.
One of the most common methods of stimulation of oil and gas recovery is hydraulic fracturing. It is used to create new crack, both artificial and expansion of the old (natural), to improve the connectivity of the wellbore and an increase of cracks or channels to promote the flow and reduce energy losses in this limited area of the formation. The essence of the method of hydraulic fracturing is that a high pressure that exceeds the formation pressure is created by pumping the viscous fluid, whereby the reservoir is stratified, and cracks are formed therein. This technology is relatively new. The consequences of its use are not sufficiently studied, but have already produced concern.
Although the method of hydraulic fracturing has been used since the early 1950s, a broad shale gas production was developed in the 2000s. About 90% of the wells in the United States work due to fracking. It brings economic and political benefits of the country, resulting in increased energy production.
Despite its advantages, in the United States, there are sharp debate on the use of fracking method because of its danger. Those states in the United States, which observed energy boom due to the use of hydraulic fracturing technology, faced the dissatisfaction of local residents. More than a thousand people gathered in the capital of the State of New York to take part in a demonstration against fracking and urge Governor Andrew Cuomo do not authorize the use of this technology in the territory of the state. In 2012, environmental activists and local residents gathered at the Capitol in Washington. They marched in front of the American Gas Association and the Institute of Petroleum, bringing contaminated water from their plots. A number of residents of Pennsylvania have filed lawsuits against the gas companies that were responsible for the contamination of their water wells. Companies drilled holes just a few hundred meters from the property. Affected residents have formed a movement against fracking. Activists from Maryland, Virginia, Washington staged a march in the city of Baltimore, protesting against plans to export liquefied natural gas from the terminal station to the Chesapeake Bay. Home exports would lead to higher demand for natural gas that was produced by hydraulic fracturing. As a result of civil protests, Maryland has banned the extraction of gas by this dangerous way, but in neighboring West Virginia and Pennsylvania, many landscapes have already been destroyed as a result of shale gas production. Moreover, Greenpeace also oppose the production of shale gas or shale oil, which requires large-scale use of dangerous and poorly understood technology of hydraulic fracturing.
In 2010, the film Gasland has thrown accusing statements regarding not only fracking for consideration by public. The film drew a picture of the eerie stealth, greed at any cost, and thoughtless pollution of all living things by mining underground resources. Poisoned water in wells, toxic emissions into the air, the death of domestic and wild animals, and the disease of people are not a complete list of problems, which are caused by the production of shale gas.
One of the challenges of technology is chemical additives to water, including corrosive acids, and toxic agents to protect against corrosion and biocides. Production of shale hydrocarbons by hydraulic fracturing results in contamination of groundwater, including drinking water sources, by toxic chemicals with chronic and acute aquatic toxicity, as well as the overall toxicity. These substances can get into the groundwater through cracks that are produced by fracking, leaking boreholes or using surface water moving over long distances. In addition, while washing the enclosing rock, a large amount of radioactive substances and heavy metals gets in the wastewater.
During gas production, millions of tons of a special chemical solution that breaks down the layers of oil shale and releases large amounts of methane are pumped into the bowels. The main problem is that shale gas with chemicals that cannot be pumped begins to surface from the depths of seeping through the soil, contaminating groundwater and topsoil. The fracturing fluid contains many hazardous substances such as volatile organic compound (toluene, cumene, etc.), carcinogens (benzene, ethylene oxide, formaldehyde, etc.), mutagens (acrylamide, copolymer of ethylene glycol with ethylene oxide, solvent naphtha, etc.), substances that destroy the endocrine system, persistent and bioaccumulative pollutants. Furthermore, there is possibility of the variant, in which the water is returned to the surface, being polluted not by chemicals, but by natural substances that are still harmful to human health and the environment that may be contained in the depths of the Earth's interior. As a result, many residents in the areas of drilling lose their health because of the constant contamination of drinking water with methane.
Another problem is water consumption. Fracking demands huge amounts of water, which is especially dangerous for arid regions, already suffering from its lack. In the extraction process, thousands of gallons of water are mixed with chemicals, and then pushed under pressure into the formation. After using for fracturing, the water never returns to the natural cycle, since there is economically justified technology of its purification from technological impurities, heavy metals and radionuclides. After returning to the surface, the water becomes highly toxic liquid waste.
The air is polluted with methane and other gases because of shale gas production. Pollution can be so strong that local residents are forced to wear respirators to avoid losing consciousness. Air is polluted by high doses of benzene and other potentially toxic oil hydrocarbons such as ethyl benzene, toluene and dymetyl benzol that cause eye irritation, headaches, sore throat, difficulty of breathing, and a high risk of cancer. Plumbum adversely affects the neurological development of children. In adults, it causes problems of the reproductive system, hypertension, and nerve disorders. The sources of pollution include diesel engines, sources of volatile organic compounds from compressor stations, pipelines, evaporation of ponds and flaring gas.
There is a threat of soil contamination. There is always a risk of leakage of toxic liquids from ponds and uncontrolled flowing emissions. There is great damage to the land use as shale gas production leads to the destruction of the landscape. The technology involves extracting a dense arrangement of wells, which leads to distortion of landscape, degradation and pollution of fertile soils and possible violation of the rights of landowners. Fracking is a constant source of noise pollution, from which local residents, livestock, and wild animals suffer. Noise can cause hearing loss, sleep disturbances, increased arterial pressure, loss of concentration, and irritability.
There is a possibility of contributing to seismic activity. Contaminated waste water is disposed of by pumping under the ground. There is a possibility that that this may increase the risk of earthquakes. Similar cases have been reported in the states of Arkansas, Oklahoma and Ohio in the United States. In Arkansas, which itself has high seismic activity, the number of tremors has increased several times after the start of the development of shale. In turn, earthquakes increase the likelihood of leaks from gas wells.
One more problem is climate change. Emissions of greenhouse gases during the extraction and use of shale gas and oil are significantly higher than during the production of conventional oil and gas. The harm to climate of shale war can be comparable with the damage from the use of coal. The extraction of unconventional gas, like any other hydrocarbon, has the risk of accidents. Local people may suffer due to explosions, fires, spills of chemicals, leaks of toxic gases. As unconventional gas drilling is a complex process, it is unlikely that it will create many jobs for the local residents. If jobs are created, they will be for unskilled workers and temporary. The burden on local roads significantly increases as wells are served with a large number of trucks.
Huge amounts of money that companies invest in the development of shale gas could be directed at the development of renewable energy and energy saving technologies. This leads to the fact that unconventional gas directly compete with renewable sources energy, such as wind or sun, and shut the economy and funds in the infrastructure for natural gas, which reserves are exhaustible. Unconventional gas deposits are too unreliable, expensive and risky source of energy to link it with future energy independence. At the same time, fracking has socio-economic impacts. The start of shale gas production could lead to a short economic boom in the region, but it will be payback for the destruction of stable and secure sectors such as agriculture and tourism.
Fracking should be banned because its consequences to human health and the environment are insufficiently studied. Information on the exact chemical composition that is used in fracking is closed. At present, there are no research that is related to fracking’s air pollution, water pollution, its effects on human health, and scientific assessment of the risks of cross-border air and water pollution. There is no regulatory framework that can protect the local population from the effects of fracking and provide compensation for damage.
The technology of fracking allowed the United States to bring shale gas production to a new level and become one of the world leaders in the production of gas. Nevertheless, shale gas extraction leads to serious environmental problems due to the coverage of large areas as well as large and intense compromising the integrity of the bowels. Although proponents of the technology insist on its security and consider hydraulic fracturing as economical source of clean energy, fracking threatens drinking water resources, pollutes the air, and contributes to greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming. To reduce the environmental risks, it is needed to conduct researches on the creation of more friendly fracturing fluids. Any mining has an impact on the environment, but a modern economy cannot function without hydrocarbons. High social standards in developed countries require compliance with strict environmental standards. Consequently, the task of oil and gas producers is minimization of environmental risks with the use of modern methods of extraction of raw materials.