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Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking for short, is one of the most prevalent topics in the fight to keep our environment and natural resources safe. For instance, fracking has been linked to cause water and air pollution in many areas where the process is used. The method has been applied since the late 1940’s, but ever since the EPA lifted their restrictions on fracking it has been applied even more frequently. Although fracking brings an economic benefit to the communities, it does not overcome some of the linked environmental hazards induced by the process .
Fracking is a harmful venture, as there is evidence which suggests it can pose problems to the freshwater systems, the air, and the land which surround the site. The activity emits numerous pollutants into the air, such as carbon dioxide, methane, and other pollutants which can cause cancer and have harmful effects on the respiratory, nervous, and immune systems (Srebotnjak, Rotkin-Ellman 2). As well as pollutants from the fracking process itself, emissions from trucks and heavy machinery can also contain chemicals, including hydrogen sulfide, benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene, which increase the risk of asthma attacks, cardiopulmonary disease, and premature death (Srebotnjak, Rotkin-Ellman 4). As well as emitting harmful pollutants into the air, fracking can put a region’s freshwater system at risk, and regulations to protect the public from issues concerning public health, water quality, or competition with the agriculture for water use have been nonexistent in the state of Michigan (Schroeck, 117). In some instances where fracking has been viewed in the courts, it has been treated as an issue of land ownership rather than an issue of environmental negligence (Wiseman, 20). Unless action is taken to require companies to frack in a manner that will cause as little harm as possible, they will continue to take advantage of Californian residents. In a recent study in Texas, it was discovered that greater amounts of fracking wastewater wells were placed near communities with higher populations of people of color (Johnston, 553). In order to protect not only the ecosystems of California, but also the citizens who live here and the business, agricultural and otherwise, which keep our economy competitive, a strong, cohesive regulatory plan will be crucial to protect the Golden State from the fracking industry.
The two least known impacts from fracking come in the form of earthquakes and hazardous waste. As stated earlier, the process of hydraulic fracturing contaminates a large amount of fresh water . The by-product of the process, called sludge, is considered by many as hazardous waste. By definition a hazardous waste is a waste that has the potential to be be very harmful to the environment. Fracking pumps a mixture of water, proppant (sand), and chemicals at a supposed ratio of 90%,9%, and around 1% respectively. The problem comes from the sheer amount of volume that gets used (Ground Water Protection Council). Even though only 1% of the mixture is made up of chemicals, that means they use anywhere from 80 to 300 tons of 5 to 10 chemicals per well (Gas Land Part 2). When all those chemicals are combined with the added oil and methane during the process, a hazardous waste is is created. That being said, there has been major difficulty trying to see what exact chemicals are being used. Some labs have done testing and found that volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are present in the mixture. The oil companies state that the chemicals are part of a “trade secret” which allows them to hide most of the chemicals from public knowledge.
Along with the possible hazardous wastes that come with the hydraulic fracturing, areas that allow fracking might be susceptible to earthquakes and other seismic activities. As of right now there are five known instances where hydraulic fracturing has been directly linked with earthquakes (Watson, 2016). This is a small number, especially compared to the number of complaints and lawsuits that have been filed claiming that water fracking has caused seismic activity in their area. Part of the reason why is because there is simply not enough knowledge on earthquakes (Nicholson, Barclay, Blanson & Fair, 2012). Larger connections have been made between seismic activity and the disposal of the wastewater produced from water fracking into well injections (Nicholson et al., 2012). As reported by the Arkansas Geological Survey reports that there exists a strong temporal and spatial connection between earthquakes occurring in Arkansas and well injection sites (Nicholson et al., 2016). However many of the cases filed against oil and gas company regarding increased seismic activity, due to both the actual process of hydraulic fracturing and/or its waste disposal, have been ruled in favor of the companies due to, again, the lack of knowledge on earthquakes as stated earlier (Nicholson et al., 2012). This is a problem because Section 519 of the Restatement (Second) of Tortes holds those who carry out “abnormally dangerous” activities responsible for injuries and/or damages to properties that arise as consequence, even if utmost precaution has been taken to prevent such (Watson, 2016). Section 519 uses six points of reference to use as guidelines to judge whether or not an activity is abnormally dangerous, one of which is the inability to substantially mitigate risk through proper exercise of care. Earthquakes can be caused in subsurface formation have been fractured and recent studies suggest that even careful practice of hydraulic fracturing and wastewater injections pose an inherent risk for earthquake damage (Waston, 2016).
Our main goal is to create a statewide proposal and legislation on where fracking can take place in California. This is needed because fracking takes place in 10 of the counties that make up California. With the push for fracking becoming more popular, the process will only expand and an all encompassing mandate is needed.The two minor objectives we want to complete through tests and labs would be discovering more information on hydraulic fracturing induced earthquakes and what exactly makes up fracking fluid. We need this information in order to make a more well rounded mandate.
To find the necessary information for the statewide regulations needed, experiments ran by Jennifer S. Harkness et al. and the Pacific Geoscience Centre will be mirrored. Through repeating the tests our hope is we will collect more information on hazardous wastes and earthquakes. The tests run to examine said hazardous waste will be taken from previous studies done by Duke University. We will take five different sets of data including 31 samples from two different fracking sites. A chemical analysis will be performed to check for chloride, bromide, multiple forms of iodine, ammonium nitrogen, and nitrate.
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