In the horizontal hydraulic fracking process, the driller punches down to the rock formation and then turns 90 degrees and drills horizontally for two miles.
Then the well is “fracked,” meaning the driller blasts water, sand and chemicals under extremely high pressure into the shale, breaking up the rock to release oil and natural gas.
But this method is drawing increasing concern about potential groundwater contamination. And energy companies are being pressured to reveal what chemicals they are injecting into thousands of wells across the U.S. Industry experts insist the chemicals cannot pollute groundwater because they are injected deep into the earth through pipes encased in concrete.
“Migrating up through solid rock two miles? It’s laughable,” said Tom Hauptman, president of KGH Operating Co., an independent oil-and-gas producer in Billings.
However, on Feb. 27 the New York Times reported that thousands of internal documents from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency show that fracking’s health and environmental dangers are higher than previously reported.
Wastewater sometimes is hauled to sewage plants that cannot treat or remove some contaminants, including radioactive levels of radon, and then released into rivers and possibly drinking water, the article said. Pennsylvania, for example, now has 71,000 wells pulling natural gas from the Marcellus Shale, double the number a decade ago.
And air pollution is hitting America’s outback.
Wyoming now has 36,000 producing oil, natural gas and methane wells. In 2009 for the first time in its history, Wyoming failed to meet federal air quality standards and the Pinedale area now has more ozone than Los Angeles, the Times said.