Reader Speaks up: Environmental Harm from Fracking

By NY GEEZER, comment on Where Money Goes to Die: How Fracking Blows Up Balance Sheets of Oil and Gas Companies

Hi Wolf,

Your message is very important!

In my view, we especially need to be very concerned about environmental harm from fracking.

Fracking has not only resulted in an exponential increase in the number of oil and natural gas wells that have been drilled, it has also resulted in an unknowable increase in pollution and the harm from it. Oil and gas wells always leak methane which is harmful to the environment and ground water. In addition, they produce hazardous waste.

Paradoxically, during the Regan administration the US Congress and the US Environmental Protection Agency determined to classify oil field waste as non-hazardous, thus exempting it from tight hazardous waste controls. Hence, individual states are left to manage it. That management is generally lax as environmental interests are no match for corporate lobbying. Anecdotally, some horror stories emerge.

Environmentalists in North Dakota have expressed concern that discarded well filters have tested highly radioactive, and local non-hazardous waste landfill operators have had to install radiation detectors to combat the illegal disposal of such filters mixed with non-hazardous waste.

In Pennsylvania numerous oil and gas wells have surreptitiously been tested and found to contain high levels of radium which is highly radioactive. Some municipal waste water treatment plants in Pennsylvania have complained that radioactive waste water from fracking has been discharged to their waste water treatment plants. Such plants are not only unequipped to treat it, but their biological treatment processes are harmed by the radiation.

It is a pity that fracking is being promoted by our government as the solution to our energy needs when it has both adverse economic and environmental issues that are being ignored.

Response by CrazyCooter:

Robert Rapier gets into this a little bit …

“Just to put the current US oil boom into further perspective, over the past five years global oil production has increased by 3.85 million bpd. During that same time span, US production increased by 3.22 million bpd — 83.6 percent of the total global increase. Had the US shale oil boom never happened and US production continued to decline as it had for nearly 40 years prior to 2008, the global price of oil might easily be at $150 to $200 a barrel by now. Without those additional barrels on the market from (primarily) North Dakota and Texas, the price of crude would have risen until supply and demand were in balance.”


Fracking is an old tech from the 80s that never made any sense economically. This is part and parcel with the can kicking going on at the macro level (QE, etc) for the reasons quoted above. The economic losses are very easy to paper over in a QE/low rate environment, but as Wolf shows above the losses will continue to pile up and will eventually implode the companies to which the debts belong … and that will trim production … and then oil prices will adjust to some sort of balance.

Rough seas ahead!

The article and the rest of the comments are here: Where Money Goes to Die: How Fracking Blows Up Balance Sheets of Oil and Gas Companies

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  5 comments for “Reader Speaks up: Environmental Harm from Fracking

  1. So, what I’m reading is that the writers would continue we trade blood for oil. We should continue to prop up the House of Saud, intervene more in Kuwait if it should be invaded again and once ISIS topples the Iraqi government we should send more troops to root them out.

    They look at state regulation in the absence of federal control as a bad thing. I look at it as a WONDERFUL thing. Many of the ills we face now can be completely laid at the feet of the Federal Government.

    If you hate fracked gas so much blame the federal government for the problems. For instance, it’s the federal government that won’t allow more nuclear power plants to be built.

    It’s also the federal government that has decided that coal is just way too dirty to burn and has put in place onerous regulations to the point they are shutting down to be replaced by…natural gas powered gas turbines!

    So you see, if you really don’t want so much natural gas used, since the vast majority of it goes to produce electricity, tell the effing Federal Government to back the hell off the regulations and let the MARKET DECIDE.

    The comment of fracking being “old tech” is such a silly and “throw down” phrase to make it seem…I don’t – just negative, I suspect – since that is the entire tenor of the comment. It shows complete ignorance or he is being misleading. It is the combination of “old tech” fracking and completely “new tech” of horizontal drilling that allows “old tech” to finally make economic sense.

    Fracking has been occurring in California for well over ten years or longer and then all of a sudden…someone noticed!! And even with all the huffing and puffing and screaming…NO ONE could point to any environmental harm caused by it.

    Many of the arguments against fracking just smack of “Silent Spring” demagoguery, it gets a little tiresome.

    And finally, since Wolf is so sure that fracking is such a flash-in-the-pan with wells turning dry quickly, what’s the big deal [not judging you one way or the other, Wolf]? If he’s right, in the next ten years we’ll all be trying to keep our houses warm with matchsticks!!

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Hey Johnny, I thought for a minute you’re going to run out of breath. You’re riled up, Dude! Thanks for the counterpoint.

      Many good points. You didn’t mention mountain-top coal mining as an alternative to fracking….

      BTW, concerning your item, “Wolf is so sure that fracking is such a flash-in-the-pan with wells turning dry quickly…”

      Not quite. Actually, sort of the opposite.

      My point is and has been since early 2012 that natural gas in the US is being produced (via fracking) below the cost of production. Drillers are getting whacked at these prices, and they’re covering up the damage by use of debt and accounting. Fracking is not a flash in the pan. It’s here to stay, but not at these natural gas prices (and maybe not even the current oil prices, though the jury is still out on that issue).

      So my bet is that the price of natural gas will have to go up for fracking to make economic sense.

  2. Dave Goodwin says:

    Here we go. Another anecdotal anti fracking piece. Where’s the balance?

    Why not note that US CO2 emissions from electricity production is at the lowest level since 1994 while electricity generation has climbed? Could it be natural gas replacing dirtier coal-fired production?

    Show us the science behind the claims of ground water contamination. Wells “tested surreptitiously?” By who, how, and with what self-serving agenda? How about some facts to round things out.

    Radium or Radon gas in ground water is quiet common even hundreds of miles from the nearest fracking operation. A simple search of “radium in water” might be enlightening.

    Finally, if you are an American you have heard our politicians make speeches about reducing our dependence on foreign oil since 1973. Private enterprise and the profit motive (a good thing, in case you’re not clear about that) got the job done while the clowns in Congress continue to talk.

    Balance my friend. Balance.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Dave, I hope you understood that the “piece” was a reader comment that I features because it’s important. It’s clearly marked in that way. I included it because it represents a side I never discuss – namely the environmental controversies of fracking.

      It’s good to have them pointed out from time to time. There is no denying that these controversies exist.

      My personal analysis of fracking for natural gas, of which this website is full, focuses on the economics of fracking – and the fact that the price of NG is still too low though it has doubled since early 2012. It’s tearing up the industry. And the industry covers up the damage.

      Ironically, you clamor for balance, and it’s for balance purposes that I featured the reader’s comment. ;-)

  3. Miggy says:

    The problem with the fracking argument is you really don’t know who to believe. I see articles that are polar opposite regarding safety.

    The one thing I can say is: The government once again is a hypocrite. They try and control our school kids right down to the food they eat and yet blowing up the earth is something the states control.

Comments are closed.