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Anti-fracking demonstrators outside the office of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, October 2012. (Source: Flickr)

Anti-fracking demonstrators outside the office of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, October 2012. (Source: Flickr)

On January 22 an earthquake of 4.4 magnitude was recorded near Fox Creek in Alberta, Canada, adding yet another possible fracking-induced incident to a list that keeps growing. The Alberta Energy Regulator pointed to fracking as the most possible cause, as earthquakes are not a normal occurrence in that area.

Amidst many controversies, fracking is booming in certain parts of the U.S. and Canada. The purpose of fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is to extract oil and gas, and it involves drilling and injecting water and sand at high pressure in order to break rocks and release the fossil fuels inside. Also, once the resources are extracted, the water left behind (millions of gallons) is laced with toxic chemicals, which have to be deposited in man-made wells.

In Ohio, an investigation concluded that a series of earth tremors that were felt in the area were the result of subterranean pressure accumulated during hydraulic fracturing that caused an existing fault to slip.

While some scientists argue that the earthquakes induced by fracking are low in intensity compared to natural ones, the safety concerns grow stronger with every one of them. In Oklahoma, known for its increased fracking activity, approximately 2,500 earthquakes have been recorded in the last five years, according to a study in the journal Science. The study linked the earthquakes to the presence of fracking wells.

Out of the hundreds of earthquakes in Oklahoma, over 100 were recorded in just one week, causing many to wonder about the safety of this extraction method.

While the fracking companies deny connections between fracking and earth tremors, there have been enough incidents in areas with intense fracking activity to make the practice of injecting huge amounts of water into the ground look suspicious.

Aside from earthquake-induced fracking, there are other risks associated with this extraction method, such as groundwater contamination, methane pollution, exposure to toxic chemicals, spills and accidents, polluted water disposal and gradual damage to existing infrastructure.

Residents in areas close to fracking site complain of noise, vibration and diesel fumes, and they are also subjected to a myriad of chemicals with effects on the reproductive system. While more data is needed before coming to a conclusion, the risks are not worth assuming, researchers say.

Environmentally speaking, the impact of methane emissions from fracking cannot be ignored. One of the main reasons is, of course, the ability of this powerful greenhouse gas to trap heat and increase global warming.

While natural gas has been touted as a cleaner source of energy, this is only true when the methane emissions associated with fracking are being reduced or stopped altogether.

The controversy surrounding the actual volume of methane has yet to settle. Until then, it is wise to remember that the cleanest energy comes from sources that do not have to be drilled into. Solar, wind and geothermal energy are part of a living world and enable the world to keep on living, hence the need to objectively assess the risks associated with any other energy sources that involve shocking extraction methods and rely on precious natural resources, such as water, in order to extract non-renewable fossil fuels.

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