Some energy analysts are predicting that natural gas will be the fuel of the future if advances in drilling technology allow drillers to tap into domestic shale rock formations on a large scale. But because of the impacts that the technology can have on water, natural gas could become our next energy disaster.
In order to extract gas from shale, drillers use a method called hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” for short. This means injecting millions of gallons of hydraulic fluids—a mix of water, chemicals and sand—into a well to create pressure that cracks open the rocks under the ground, allowing the gas to escape and flow into wells.
This can deplete and contaminate local water. Because a single frack requires millions of gallons of water, fracking can draw down local water resources. Since the fluids contain toxic chemicals, they can damage human health and the environment if they make their way into local water supplies through leaks, spills or underground injection. After fracking, some water flows back up the well along with the gas. This wastewater is difficult to dispose of safely because it may contain toxic fracking chemicals, as well as dissolved solids it picks up underground, some of which may be radioactive. And, methane freed up because of the fracking can make its way through the ground into household wells, which can cause wells and houses to explode because it is highly flammable.