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Negative Impact of Fracking: 3 Ways It Harms the Environment

Jane Marsh - February 18, 2022

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Have you ever wondered about the negative impact of fracking?

Fracking, also known as hydraulic fracturing, is a fuel collection process where sand, water, and chemicals are pumped underground through drilled wells. This high-pressure fluid fractures shale rock formations. This also gives drilling companies access to large quantities of oil and gas trapped inside the rock. 

Although collecting these raw materials has led to an economic boom for the United States, it has come with an environmental cost. Under federal and state law fracking companies face few regulations. Without proper precautions, fracking has negatively affected the environment in a number of ways.

Fracking Contaminates Water

The process of fracking takes immensely large amounts of water. A United States Geological Survey from 2015 estimated that a single well can use anywhere from 2600 m3 to 36,620 m3 of water per well. Wells that employ a horizontal drill in shale-gas areas use the largest amounts of water to operate. 

After water is used for fracking, it’s contaminated with the chemicals used for the fracking process. Some fracking companies send this wastewater deep underground, where they believe it’s too far down to affect the quality of drinking water. Other companies send their water to treatment plants for purification and reuse. 

Unfortunately, fracking fluids contain some known carcinogens and endocrine disruptors, and treatment plants don’t always remove these successfully. Some studies also suggest that wastewater does affect the quality of drinking water over time. While some water contamination could be the result of human error, there’s concern that the problem is more widespread.

Because of trade secret laws, fracking companies are not required to report all of the chemicals they are using during the extraction process. In addition, there’s some concern that storing wastewater underground is putting pressure on fault lines and contributing to an increasing number of earthquakes

Fracking Causes Air Pollution

Although experts initially believed natural gas was a cleaner fossil fuel than coal and petroleum, they’re beginning to be concerned that it’s worse. Fracking wells emit large quantities of methane into the atmosphere, which heat the globe for about a decade before breaking down into carbon dioxide, another greenhouse gas. 


Fracking wells are also known to leak volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. These compounds are toxic for humans and have been linked to asthma, cancer, and other severe illnesses. Some studies have also connected fracking pollution to birth defects, nervous system damage, and skin problems. 

Unlike contaminated water which can affect distant communities, air pollution remains concentrated near drilling wells. To protect their health, many people have chosen to move after a fracking company drills close by. Even with precautions, leaks are always possible. Also the chemicals coming from fracking wells are too widely documented to be ignored. 

Unfortunately, fracking companies often drill in low-income communities. The health hazards that come with the drilling process end up affecting those with the least resources to defend themselves. 

Fracking Damages Soil Health

If fracking wastewater accidentally spills or it isn’t properly purified, it can leach heavy metals and other toxic compounds into the soil. These chemicals can make the land less fertile and even poison the ground, impacting farmers across America

Healthy soil filters water and provides a fertile and supportive environment for growing healthy food. In any ecosystem, all other life forms rely on healthy soil and thriving, diversified vegetation. 

However, soil contaminated by fracking pollution does the opposite of what healthy soil does. It poisons water instead of filtering it and can transfer heavy metals and other toxins into food that grows there. Livestock that eats this food can get sick or spread toxins to customers. 

In some states, treated wastewater waters crops. Unfortunately, studies suggest that typical water treatment plants are not rigorous enough to remove the toxic chemicals present in fracking wastewater. The salt used for fracking can also destroy the fertility of farmland if spilled. 

Negative Impact of Fracking: The Time for Change Is Now

Although fracking can bring economic benefit in the short term, evidence is mounting that its long-term effects on the environment are incredibly destructive. The fracking industry needs to reexamine its health standards and increase transparency. 

The earth has an incredible ability to heal itself, especially with the aid of people invested in environmental remediation. If fracking companies are willing to change their approach and meet higher health standards, Americans can continue to benefit from this economic opportunity without sacrificing the country’s health.


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About the author

Jane Marsh

Starting from an early age, Jane Marsh loved all animals and became a budding environmentalist. Now, Jane works as the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co where she covers topics related to climate policy, renewable energy, the food industry, and more.