Every time the gas industry fracks, the public loses. We forfeit an enormous amount of fresh water from our rivers, lakes and streams, and we get a toxic waste disposal nightmare in return.
Rather than acknowledge these losses and work toward real solutions, the gas industry consistently sidesteps these issues, and falsely claims to have fixed them. Recently, Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon told us: “We heard that we were using too much water, so today we recycle 90% to 100%.” He later stated: “Then you talk about water consumption, and we start to recycle 99%.” Unfortunately, like so many of the industry’s empty promises, this story is not consistent with the reality of how much water the gas industry uses and how much waste it generates.
First, most of the chemically-laced water used for fracking (as much as 85 percent according to Pro Publica reports; other estimates range from 10 to 40 percent), does not return to the surface. Rather, it stays underground, where it can potentially migrate to and pollute fresh water supplies (another serious problem that deserves further discussion). Thus, recycling does not significantly change the amount of fresh water needed to frack a well.
When you have lived in the same place for 20 years and all of sudden your hair turns orange after you wash it, you might be more than a little concerned.
But, of course, don’t blame the natural gas company that is pumping thousands of gallons of toxic sludge into the ground just up the street. That can’t possibly have anything to do with your hair turning orange or the chemically smelling sediment floating around in your water glass.
After all, the natural gas industry, in a process called hydraulic fracturing (also called “fracking”), says that 99-percent of the sludge they use is just water and sand.
The 1 percent that isn’t water and sand is chemicals like formamide, a “reproductive toxicant” that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention says targets organs like the “eyes, skin, respiratory system, central nervous system, [and] reproductive system.”
Also in the 1 percent is something called Glutaraldehyde, a “developmental toxicant, immunotoxicant, reproductive toxicant, respiratory toxicant, skin or sense organ toxicant.”
Now when you consider that the average fracking operation uses more than a million gallons of fluid, that means this teeny tiny 1 percent of toxins is a whopping 10,000 gallons.