As water supplies worldwide become increasingly stressed, our attention to water conservation and sustainable water use becomes more critical. Without reliable fresh water resources, our chances for maintaining food security, proper health and hygiene, and enough drinking water to supply the masses becomes a battle of epic proportions.

While natural weather patterns and fluctuations in year-to-year precipitation do influence water availability to a degree, man is proving to be quite disruptive to the water cycle as well. You may already be aware that our food systems which is primarily focused on animal agriculture industry is diverting massive amounts of fresh water its way while offering up astounding levels of pollution. Bottled water companies are being accused of similar actions, robbing communities of their own supplies of water and shipping it elsewhere for profit.

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But did you know that fossil fuel extractions also have an impact on the global water cycle? This industry is removing water from both above-ground and below-ground sources at astounding rates, and is replacing it with polluted, toxic chemicals that are harmful to neighboring communities. This damage and destruction is all done through a process called fracking and it’s proving to be quite an enemy to our fresh water security

What Is Fracking?

It’s likely you’ve heard the term “fracking” in discussions around oil and natural gas extraction. And you may have even heard about the community backlash that is spawned by this activity. But do you know exactly what fracking is and how it works?

“Fracking” refers to “hydraulic fracking” which is a method for extracting oil or natural gas from the shale below the earth’s surface. A drill is sent downward and then often horizontally where a mixture of water, sand, and chemicals are injected into the shale at very high pressure. The rocks fracture apart and the oil or natural gas is sent upwards to the surface where it is harvested.

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Fracking: Drilling Towards DroughtDay Donaldson/Flickr
 

Utilizing this method for oil and natural gas extraction is particularly appealing to countries like the United State and England who have oil and natural gas deposits, although at difficult-to-reach depths. Fracking puts these deposits more within reach and allows these nations the opportunity to access fossil fuels on their home soil, improving energy independence and decreasing reliance on foreign supplies of energy.

More Drilling Water = Less Drinking Water

Of great importance in that description of fracking was the fact that both water and chemicals are utilized in the process of fracturing apart the shale rock. And herein lies the problem that fracking presents to our water supply.

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Water Down the Drain

The first problem for water supplies that fracking presents is simply the water it uses. Between two and five million gallons of fresh water are used in each fracking well. And with hundreds of thousands of new wells being built over the last decade in the United States alone, that amounts to absolutely massive amounts of fresh water being channeled away from direct use in drinking or food supply, and going instead towards the fossil fuel industry.

Fracking operations do not seek out areas where freshwater supplies are abundant. Rather, they go to where the oil and natural gas are, regardless of freshwater availability. This is especially true in California where a historic drought has gripped the state for four years now. A recent study shows that fracking operations in California used 70 million gallons of fresh water in 2014! For a state with an estimated one year of water left, this is an especially concerning statistic.

A Chemical Cocktail Left Behind

The simple fact that fracking uses a lot of fresh water is, sadly, only part of a distressing picture. The reality is that fracking is also responsible for an enormous amount of fresh water pollution.

Those chemicals used in the fracking process enter into an important discussion once they are injected into a drill site. Unfortunately, the oil and gas industry does not have to completely disclose the chemicals used in the process, however the chemical-laden water is expected to contain over 100 endocrine disruptors and carcinogens as well as acetic acid, formaldehyde and boric acid.

This highly polluted water may be less of a problem if it were recovered and treated by the fracking industry. However, it is believed that only half of the water returns to the surface for storage. The other half most likely remains below the earth’s surface  where it threatens to enter underground drinking water supplies of neighboring communities. So, even if fracking operations left enough fresh water behind for use by citizens, there’s a very real chance their whole supply can then become tainted by an assault from a chemical cocktail.

Solutions

The most obvious solution to eliminate fracking is by removing your support for the fossil fuel industry completely, but going entirely off the grid may be out of reach for many at the current time.

Fracking: Drilling Towards DroughtMarcellus Protest/Flickr

You can still, however, exercise your voice to speak out against the dangers of fracking and of the problems it presents for water security. The Food and Water Watch offers information for local communities looking to ban fracking in their neighborhoods. For the sake of protecting your water and community health, you can get involved to keep fracking operations out of your backyard.

You can also let the government know how you feel about fracking, and your wishes for the American people to be protected from the dangers this industry created for fresh water supplies. The Energy Action Coalition, Food and Water Watch and MoveOn.org each have petitions available to you to sign. Make sure your voice is heard and the government understands your opposition to the fracking industry’s attack on our water supplies!

Lead image source: John Cole