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Coal, oil and natural gas: we all learn about these three types of fossil fuels in school. But are we really educated on how they are destroying our environment?

Oil is found as a solid between layers of sedimentary rocks, and it is heated to produce the thick oil used to make gasoline. Natural gas can be found in sedimentary rock layers that don’t contain oil; it is mainly made up of methane. These non-renewable sources of energy are finite and not clean, yet they provide most of our heat and electricity.

Fracking is the process in which a mixture of water, sand and chemicals are injected underground, at extremely high pressures, to create fractures in the rocks so that the oil and natural gas can flow through for extraction. Ethane, a by-product of the fracking of natural gas, is used to make plastic.

The Research

Researchers from Dartmouth College demonstrated the prevalence of radioactive waste that arises from fracking. This is the first study of its kind to describe the toxins, such as barium and radioactive radium, that are transferred to the wastewater during the fracking process. Radium is distributed in the natural environment when it´s absorbed by the soil and water sources, and enters the food chain through plants and fish. Barium is a health hazard and is on the Special Health Hazard Substance List. Radon is a carcinogenic gas that can be released during the fracking of unconventional rock formations.

A more recent study released by the PSR documented the impact of fracking on health and the environment. They found that fracking has contributed to 40% of all global warming to date. This is accelerating the climate crisis due to the high levels of methane released into the atmosphere and over 200 airborne chemical contaminants during the drilling and extraction process, as well as during transportation through constructed pipelines. These can cause respiratory illnesses, cardiovascular disease and damage to maternal and infant health.

The Impact

In many countries around the world, drilling has been banned, but areas where drilling occurs have experienced increases in dangerous air pollutants: benzene (linked to cancer and childhood leukaemia), toluene (linked to brain, liver and kidney problems and infant mortality) and formaldehyde (a carcinogen).

Groundwater and surface water sources near oil and gas wells can also become contaminated with methane or leaked gas. Because of the high volumes of water used in fracking, local water supplies can become strained.

Hydraulic fracking has been linked to low magnitude earthquakes in the US. Fracking is widely practised in the US, and in most cases, the association with earthquakes is supported by the timing and the location of the earthquakes, which coincide with the locations of fracking wells.

Fracking infrastructure, including the construction of cracker plants, pipelines, access roads and wells affect local ecosystems, animal habitats, migration patterns and soil erosion. People working in petrochemical facilities are exposed to more toxins, therefore they have higher health risks. Research shows that they have a higher risk of brain cancer compared to employees in other professions.

What You Can Do

In the UK, fracking has taken place on a small scale. It was banned in 2019 and Rishi Sunak has agreed to continue the ban. The construction of fracking infrastructure requires many permits from governments, and they can be influenced by pressure from activists or environmental organisations. So, this means that you have a voice in whether fracking infrastructure gets built in your community. Join other activists and educate yourself on the issue.


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