Long-term costs of hydraulic fracturing need considering

by Anant Naik

On April 2, citizens of Irving, Texas, reported earthquake tremors. Many of these tremors were felt several miles away in cities like Dallas and Fort Worth. The United
States Geological Survey confirmed there were five distinct earthquakes in one day, the highest of the five having a 3.3 magnitude. 
 
A rare occurrence several years ago, earthquakes have begun to disturb many local communities, raising a puzzling question: Why are they occurring?
 
Many would argue that this change is due to the lubrication of earthquake faults by a process called hydraulic fracking. Hydraulic fracking has been around since 1947, but only recently have technological advancements revolutionized the process, which involves using water and a slew of chemicals to extract natural gas in shale deposits deep in the earth. Many of these chemicals, like ethyl glycol, are toxic and are known carcinogens. 
 
Scientists have been split on the fracking revolution’s relationship to earthquakes. With the data that USGS has, it’s not viable to conclude that fracking is causing these earthquakes. However, the organization did establish that there is not enough data to rule out fracking entirely, and tremendous research is necessary to accurately assess these problems. 
 
But earthquakes aren’t the only danger of fracking’s expansion. The Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies describes another very dangerous problem:
 
The slew of chemicals used in fracking is contaminating aquifers used by many communities. Though companies are using concrete wells to prevent this from
occurring, many of these wells are old, and their cracks lend them to leaks.
 
Fracking also creates a dangerous environment for the communities that the wells surround. In the journal Human and Ecological Risk Assessment, a study found that out of the 632 chemicals that are publicly known to be used in fracking, 75 percent could affect skin, eyes and other sensory organs, in addition to the respiratory and gastrointestinal systems.
Approximately 40 to 50 percent could affect the nervous, immune and cardiovascular systems or the kidneys, and some could cause cancer. Communities near fracking sites have also reported constantly smelling a cascade of chemicals, dust clouds and diesel fumes. 
 
Economically, fracking has helped the price of natural gas to drop 47 percent over the last two years, which has resulted in falling gas bills for energy consumers. The Brookings Institute estimates that this decrease amounts to about $200 per year for gas-consuming households. But we must weigh these benefits against the costs. 
 
Just because we don’t have enough data points to show that fracking is bad doesn’t mean that it’s good. More research must be done.
 
The burden of proof ought to be with the large companies, not with the rest of society experiencing fracking’s harms.