The Truth About Fracking

The use of hydraulic fracturing – fracking – to extract natural oil and gas has become a politically charged topic. As analytical chemists, our lab at the University of Texas at Arlington aims to inject some much-needed objectivity into the debate.

By Doug Carlton Jr.

September 2017

In recent years, the US has seen a boom in unconventional oil and gas development (UD), including hydraulic fracturing, to extract oil and gas. Energy companies claim that it is safe, clean, and necessary if the US wants to ensure essential power supplies in the coming decades. However, environmental activists have raised concerns that fracking is contaminating local water and air.

Imagine you are a landowner in a rural community. An energy company representative comes to you and explains that your land contains oil or gas, and that you could be making “money for nothing”. You sign the contract, thinking of how the money could benefit your family. Months later, dozens of heavy tractor trailers begin rumbling through narrow rural roads; the landscape and community begins to change. Change brings about uncertainty, which often leads to doubt. The unease is further fueled by a raft of conflicting information and propaganda online. You find yourself reading a forwarded email from your grandmother, with a picture of someone lighting their well water on fire, while in the background an American Petroleum Institute commercial booms “This ain’t your daddy’s oil” (1). During these confusing times, a health, environmental, or lifestyle change occurs and our minds tend to go immediately to the new kid on the block – fracking. Could a mystery illness or a change in your well water be the result of that contract you signed all those months ago? The energy company says one thing, environmental groups say the opposite – who do you believe?