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Whilst the many dangers of fracking have been known for a while, such as air contamination and the pollution of groundwater, the oil-industries gung-ho attitude to environmental issues has fomented what could, in the long term, be an environmental catastrophe. A new report by US scientists has shown that 16% of hydraulically fractured oil and gas wells spill liquids each year. This means that those sites are taking an improper attitude to safeguarding the environment and it is largely due to a lack of legislation that allows these practices to continue.

The report found that there had been 6,600 releases of potentially hazardous material from fractured oil and gas wells in four states. The worst affected region was North Dakota, where 67% of the spills were recorded. The largest spill involved over 100,000 litres of liquid.

Fracking involves the use of a variety of hazardous chemical compounds which, when pumped into the ground release shale gas. Even though these chemicals are classified as a “trade secret” scientists analysing fracked areas have found deposits of benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene all of which are considered volatile organic compounds (VOC’s). In total the chemical composition of fracking liquids consists of over 300 chemical compounds, most have not been identified.

The fact that safety precautions at North Dakota and other areas in the United States have not been properly imposed is deeply worrying when the chemicals themselves are considered. What is more worrying still is the fact that there is still a lot of uncertainty, even among experts, as to the dangers of long term fracking. Damage to ecosystems might be contained or it may pose a wider risk as the chemicals percolate throughout the groundwater of increasingly large areas.

What’s needed to regulate the practise of fracking is more legislation and a better attitude on the part of politicians when approaching these problems and other environmental issues. Unfortunately, now that we are in the Trump epoch of American politics, this looks increasingly unlikely to be a major concern as far as policy is concerned.

This study is one of many that demonstrate the various dangers involved with fracking but it also highlights what needs to be done to prevent further spills and reduce the dangers associated with it. Unfortunately, in the current political climate it seems unlikely that this is going to happen. Only time will tell.

By Sam Cottle