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Does fracking adversely impact on drinking water?

The research adds to other environmental issue relating to hydraulic fracturing. The fracking process involves the injection of millions of gallons of freshwater and chemicals into shale. While most research has been into the direct effect on water quality, the new study looks at how fracking processes impact water loss. The fracking operation withdraws these large quantities of water from nearby waterways.

The effect of withdrawing large quantities of water from nearby waterways, like streams, for fracking can potentially affect aquatic ecosystems and there is also an impact upon people who use such water for drinking and recreation, according to the research.

The fracking process involves the use of high-pressure injection of ‘fracking fluid’ (water, which may contain sand or other proppants) into a wellbore. This process creates cracks in the deep-rock formations, and through this which natural gas, oil and brine can flow freely. When the hydraulic pressure is removed, hydraulic fracturing proppants keep the fractures open, enabling extraction of the fossil fuels.

The researchers have assessed that, typically, over 5 million gallons of freshwater are used to fracture one gas well in the U.S. This is a water quantity can could fill seven Olympic-size swimming pools. The source water is typically streams located close to the fracking site.

The researchers are concerned that many of these streams are a source of drinking water for communities and also the ecological niche for various species, some of which are in decline. The researchers are calling for greater study into the sustainably of water loss from such sources.

These concerns are based on a study of Fayetteville Shale, an active gas field in Arkansas. The researchers looked at water stress from hydraulic fracturing and stream flow rates. The researchers calculated that freshwater usage for fracking could potentially affect aquatic organisms in between 7 to 51 percent of the catchments.

The ecologists are calling for improved monitoring and longer-term assessments. The new study has been reported to the journal Environmental Science & Technology. The research paper is titled “Water Stress from High-Volume Hydraulic Fracturing Potentially Threatens Aquatic Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services in Arkansas, United States.”

Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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