Business Perspectives

Fracking and myths of the oil and gas industry

Yvonne Cather
Yvonne Cather Courtesy photo

A recent article by Edward Cross, president of the Kansas Oil and Gas Association, suggests that concerns about the safety and environmental threat of hydraulic fracturing are unfounded. (Feb. 19 Wichita Eagle)

Proponents of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas and oil, or fracking, claim it is a harmless and reliable technology.

We in the Sierra Club have looked closely at this issue and believe public concern about the impact of fracking is justified.

Here are several myths often made by supporters of fracking and facts that everyone should consider about this increasingly widespread practice.

Myth: Hydraulic fracturing is not new.

Fact: While hydraulic fracturing was first employed over 65 years ago in Grant County, there have been many technological advances since then. Early fracking was conducted in vertical wells at pressures between 2,000 and 3,000 pounds-force per square inch. Pumps powered by less than 300 horse power forced fluids into the wells. Today’s fracking utilizes horizontal drilling at pressures of over 13,000 psi, with 2,400 hp pumps forcing an average of 5 million gallons of water per frack. This is not your grandmother’s fracking. And do we in Kansas have this much water to spare?

Myth: Hydraulic fracturing does not cause earthquakes.

Fact: According to a June 2012 report by the National Research Council, “Hydraulic fracturing has a low risk for inducing earthquakes that can be felt by people, but underground injection of waste water produced by hydraulic fracturing and other technologies have a higher risk of causing such earthquakes.” The National Academy of Sciences echoes this concern. Recent instances of earthquakes in Texas, Arkansas, Ohio and elsewhere have been connected to fracking.

Myth: Hydraulic fracturing has never caused groundwater contamination:

Fact: The oil and gas industry fiercely guards as “trade secrets” information about chemicals used in the toxic cocktail of fluids thrust into the ground with every frack. Thus drillers can claim no connection between thousands of instances of groundwater and stream contamination all over the country and fracking operations that have recently moved into these areas. Currently there are more than 78,000 wells in Kansas with a staff of only 90 people to oversee their safety. What could possibly go wrong? And what recourse will residents and landowners have when it does?

Myth: Hydraulic fracturing fluids are 98 percent water and 2 percent chemicals:

Fact: Tons of chemicals are used in every frack job. Some fracking chemicals are so potent that just a few parts per million may cause severe disease from continued exposure, such as in well water used for drinking or washing. Yet specifics about these chemicals are kept from the public. At present, Kansas only requires drillers to disclose a general description of fluids to be injected (such as saying it is a lubricant).

Do we want to put the Ogallala Aquifer and other water sources at risk? Are we willing to rely on claims by drillers that fracking is harmless to humans and wildlife while they pump chemicals into the ground?

This myth completely ignores naturally occurring harmful chemicals brought to the surface in wastewater from deep geological formations from fracturing, such as increased levels of hydrogen sulfide gas, radium, uranium radon, thorium etc. These chemicals pollute water and air.

Myth: The chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing involve simple compounds at very low concentrations:

Fact: The list of dangerous chemicals used as additives in hydraulic fracturing doesn’t exist, due to proprietary reasons or “trade secrets.”

The article published last month led us to think combining fracking chemicals is like mixing peanut butter and jelly, but readers can decide for themselves if they’re willing to consume toluene, benzene, and other toxic chemicals with or without sliced bread.

Myth: Hydraulic fracturing has been effectively regulated by state governments and oversight agencies since its inception:

Fact: Kansas does not adequately regulate the extraction of oil and natural gas. How can fracking be regulated when the chemicals used are not even disclosed? And what of accountability for the condition of water after it is mixed with these chemicals to fracture stratified shale and limestone deep in the ground. Drilling for natural gas is highly toxic to air, as well as water. But there are currently no regulations in Kansas to monitor, minimize and capture methane gas and other air pollutants as they’re released.

In last year’s legislative session, the Sierra Club’s Kansas Chapter supported a bill known as the Frack Act that would hold drillers accountable for the impact of hydraulic fracturing on our health and environment. A copy of the bill can be found at the Kansas Sierra Club website (, along with more information about the dangers of fracking.

While the petroleum industry insists that hydraulic fracturing is safe, both scientific research and anecdotal reports provide overwhelming evidence that more information and regulation are needed.