Across the country, fracking has contaminated drinking water sources, made nearby residents sick, turned pristine landscapes into industrial zones, and caused air and global warming pollution. The oil and gas industry has spent untold millions of dollars on advertising and public relations campaigns to convince the public that fracking is necessary and safe, but their efforts have included distortions of the truth or outright falsehoods.
Environment America researchers have compiled the top five fictions spread by the oil and gas industry and their allies, followed by the facts from our report, Fracking by the Numbers, and other sources, that refute them. The truth will scare you!
FRACK FICTION #1. "There's never been one case -- documented case -- of groundwater contamination in the history of the thousands of thousands of hydraulic fracturing [wells]."
-Senator James Inhofe (R-OK)
FACT: State regulators have documented at least 1,000 instances of water contamination by oil and gas operations, including more than 700 in New Mexico alone. That's because from start to finish, from the injection of toxic chemicals underground to spills of fracking fluid and waste pits, the entire process of fracking is a threat to rivers, streams, and our groundwater.
FRACK FICTION #2. "Hydraulic fracturing is... not a significant source of [methane] emissions."
FACT: In 2010, the average fracking well released an estimated 110,000 pounds of methane, a potent global warming pollutant, just in its first nine days of operation. Moreover, a 2014 analysis of fracking wells in Pennsylvania found that methane leakage rates were 100 to 1,000 times greater than previous estimates by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
FRACK FICTION #3. "There will be virtually no visual signs that a well was once there."
-Marathon Oil Corp
FACT: While drilling rigs come and go, the surrounding infrastructure of fracking -- including pipelines, access roads, compressor stations, and processing plants -- permanently turn pristine landscapes into industrial zones. Each well pad involves clear-cutting over eight acres of land. One study in Pennsylvania found that forest damage from fracking was more than twice as great as that caused by development. Another found that homes located close to a well site predictably lose up to 14 percent of their value; many have lost far more. Pollution from fracking chemicals and toxic spills can kill livestock and cause permanent damage to wildlife and farmland.
FRACK FICTION #4. "I know of no [wastewater] tank trucks being dumped onto roads."
-Kathryn Klaber, former CEO of the Marcellus Shale Coalition
FACT: New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania all currently use fracking production brine as a de-icing agent on public roads; it is marketed for this purpose because of its high salt content. The EPA has recommended against spreading production brine on roads, because it may carry the toxic chemicals applied to frack fluid and concentrated levels of the contaminants found in shale formations. An analysis by the Natural Resources Defense Council has found that production brine, and not just flowback wastewater, can contain pollutants and harmful levels of radioactivity. Applying these dangerous substances to roadways places groundwater at risk of toxic pollution and local infrastructure at risk of degradation, and poses a threat to public health.
FRACK FICTION #5. "Proper well cementing ensures groundwater protection."
-Energy From Shale
FACT: Fracking wells can and do leak. Numerous studies -- including those done by the oil and gas industry -- have shown that oil and gas wells are leaking. Most recently, the National Academy of Sciences published a report by four scientists who reviewed 75,000 compliance reports from oil and gas wells in Pennsylvania: "Statewide data show[ed] a sixfold higher incidence of cement and/or casing issues for shale gas wells relative to conventional wells." Former industry engineer Chip Northrup explains in this video how and why cement around well casings can shrink and crack, creating pathways for pollution of groundwater.