The extraction and processing of natural gas, coal, oil, and uranium (for nuclear energy) require the use of water. Mining-related water withdrawal accounted for over 5,000 million gallons of water uptake per day in 2010. These withdrawals were most significant in drought likely states such as California, Oklahoma, and Texas. Not only do mining processes use and consume the water they can also contaminate it.
Mineral extraction often results in toxic waste. Improper disposal of this waste can lead to drinking water contamination. In Laurel Creek West Virginia, coal slurry injections close to freshwater aquifers lead to toxic levels of heavy metals in drinking water. Slurries are a solution of water and finely ground coal. Hair samples from residents whose drinking water were within 3 miles of several million gallons of slurry injections, showed evidence of elevated heavy metal levels. The hydrogen sulfide concentration in local tap water samples were 2 times over the EPA limit. Efforts have been made to mitigate pollution from fossil fuel energy production, but even mitigation methods contribute to water use and consumption. For example, the World Energy Council reports that carbon capture and storage technology increases the water consumption of fossil fuel plants by 50-90%.
Oil and gas drilling including hydrofracking not only use large volumes of water for drilling but leave behind toxic waste pits or injection of toxic waste that are a timebomb waiting to contaminate Michigan’s surface and groundwaters. Transportation of these materials via pipelines or other modes puts the drinking water sources of millions of people at risk due to inadequate monitoring and enforcement measures.
Hydro Fracking in the Great Lakes Region
Hydrofracking is a procedure used by oil and gas companies where a mixture of water, chemicals, and sand is pumped down a well in a shale formation at a high pressure to “fracture” the shale rock and allow natural gas contained tightly in the formation to be accessible for commercial use.
Image courtesy of www.usgs.gov
Image courtesy of www.usgs.gov
Natural gas reserves previously inaccessible are now accessible through a technique called high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing. Arguments have been made that these reserves are being sought as a means of slowing climate change because it burns more cleanly than coal and oil. However, scientist say that the methane released during extraction, which is a climate gas, is as bad or even worse for climate change.
There are other significant environmental risks too. One well can produce over a million gallons of wastewater. That wastewater often includes naturally occurring chemicals brought up from thousands of feet underground such as highly corrosive salts and carcinogens like benzene and radioactive elements like radium in addition to other carcinogenic materials added by the industry as part of the hydrofracking itself. The industry is arguably far outpacing our environmental regulations. We need to assess the impacts of this practice and whether we have the right laws in place to protect our resources or if this is even the right practice for our region.