Shale Gas 101

Video by Public Herald


Shale gas development causes air pollution.

It endangers air quality through the high release of contaminants including volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and nitrogen oxides (NOx), carbon monoxide (CO), hydgrogen sulfide (H2S), and methane. VOCs and NOx combine to form smog (ground level ozone), which is correlated with increases in asthma and heart problems. Residents who live near gas fields have reported watery eyes, bloody noses, and shortness of breath because of air pollution.

Shale gas development causes groundwater contamination.

It can cause severe groundwater pollution. Researchers have found high levels of toxic substances, including arsenic, selenium and strontium, in groundwater near fracking well sites on the Barnett Shale in North Texas. Pollution cases have also involved arsenic, iron, and other heavy metals. However the most common groundwater contaminant from fracking is methane. One PNAS study released last year found that water wells within one mile of fracking sites had methane concentations 6 times as high as water wells farther away.

Fracking and related processes has polluted many communities’ drinking water in Northeastern Pennsylvania. In 2013, the state of Pennsylvania received 398 complaints of water contamination from drilling. A large number of these complaints came from Bradford and Susquehanna Counties, as shown in the map below. Perhaps the most well-known example of fracking’s impact on drinking water is Dimock in Susquehanna County, where over 30 residents can no longer drink from their wells.

Shale gas development contributes to further climate disruption.

Fracking, related processes, and expanded use of natural gas will also have negative impacts on the severity of climate change. Natural gas is often touted as a “bridge fuel” because of its lower carbon emissions relative to coal. However, merely transitioning our electricity generation from coal to gas is not nearly enough to make a meaningful impact on carbon emissions. With the additional impacts of leaked methane (which has 86 times the global warming potential of CO2 over a twenty year time period), it becomes clear that we need to quickly move from gas to renewables in order to  truly deal with climate change.