What is Fracking? 4 Facts You Should Know

woman with fire coming out of her kitchen tapWhat is fracking? Here’s the short answer: Hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, is a drilling practice that calls for injecting millions of gallons of a toxic mixture of chemicals, water and sand into the earth in order to create enough pressure to cracks open rocks and release oil or natural gas.

And here’s what you need to know:

1. The nearly 600 chemicals used in fracking include known carcinogens such as benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene and xylene, among others, which can leach into drinking water.

What is fracking? There’s the short answer, and then there’s what you need to know.

2. Exposure to these chemicals have been linked to neurological disorders, birth defects and cancer, among other significant problems. A year-long study found that 108 Pennsylvania residents living in 14 counties where fracking was prevalent experienced health problems—especially severe respiratory illnesses—that they did not experience before drilling began. The study seeks to disprove the “industry representatives and policymakers seeking to expand drilling [who] often dismiss claims of health impacts as ‘personal anecdotes’ and isolated incidents.”

3. A 2012 study found pregnant women exposed to fracking were 25% more likely to have low birth weight babies, which can adversely affect a child’s health.

4. However, natural gas and oil companies, which aren’t held accountable to the Safe Drinking Water Act, don’t have to disclose the chemicals that they use.

But this all might be about to change.

In 2012, the Environmental Integrity project, along with 16 other national and regional organizations, petitioned the EPA to require fracking companies to report to the Toxics Release Inventory and make the chemicals that they are using available to the public.

Think fracking is just a water issue? According to the lawsuit, oil and gas extraction releases nearly 130,000 tons of hazardous air pollutants each year, second only to coal-fired power plants.

Hundreds of groups signed a statement presented at thee 2012 Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in support of a “categorical opposition against all extraction of shale gas and shale oil and every use of hydraulic fracturing.”

But sadly, even if hydraulic fracturing ended today, the damage may extend well into the future. Currently, the wells required to store the wastewater deep underground have been linked to earthquakes in places like Oklahoma. The U.S. Geological Survey found the incidence of earthquakes in the middle of the country jumped from 21 in 2000 to 134 in 2011.

What can you do? Take a look at anti-fracking petitions from the National Resources Defense Council, MoveOn.org, and Food & Water Watch, just to name a few. (Yes, I’ve signed them all.)

Want more? Josh Fox, director of the ground-breaking documentary “Gasland,” which focused on the effects of drilling Colorado, co-released a short film about fracking with Rolling Stone magazine.

The film also focuses on the oil and gas industry’s marketing campaign—positioning fracking as good for the environment—designed by the public relations firm Hill & Knowlton, which made its’ fortune convincing us that cigarette smoking was safe.

We all know how well that went for America.

Photo: ThinkProgress

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