Hydraulic fracturing, referred to as fracking, has been in the news a fairly good bit over the past year. But interestingly, I find that few folks even know what it really is. I will address one of the areas of concern. Offshore fracking appears to be the next frontier of oil companies to boost profits at the expense of safety and environmental concerns.  Fracking is the process of drilling and injecting fluid into the ground at a high pressure in order to fracture shale rocks to release natural gas and crude oil trapped inside. While this procedure has been around for decades, only recently has technology advanced to the point where offshore fracking is feasible. This environmentally controversial method of drilling has been widely condemned as a source of groundwater contamination. However, the main concern now is how that debate will play out as oil companies move offshore.

Major oil companies such as BP, Shell, and Chevron Corp. stand to make billions in profits with the expansion of their offshore fracking endeavors. But, as profits soar, so will the risks to the environment and habitats in which these companies are hoping to drill.  While new fracking operations have commenced off the coasts of Brazil and Africa, the real concern is in the Gulf of Mexico, where wells more than 100 miles from the shore must negotiate hazardous water depths of a mile or more. With an expected growth of more than 10 percent by the end of 2015, fracking in the Gulf of Mexico is rapidly expanding, but at what costs? Miyoko Sakashita, Oceans Director at the Center for Biological Diversity, had this to say:

The concern is that chemicals used in the fracking fluid that’s released in the Gulf could harm sea life or upset the ecosystem. One of the key problems is nobody has really looked at the environmental impacts of offshore fracking, and we find that incredibly concerning. Nobody knows what they’ve been discharging and in what amounts.

According to companies and regulators, the treated wastewater used to fracture the shale rocks is then dumped overboard into the vast expanse of the Gulf of Mexico, where dilution supposedly renders it harmless to the vast ecosystem of sea life below the ocean’s surface. However, a spokesperson for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was not aware of any studies having been done on the impact of offshore fracking. The practice has long been viewed as “a somewhat short term discharge and often mixed with other discharges.”

Along with the immediate contamination concerns, fracking operations have been repeatedly linked with the increase of earthquakes near fracking wells. William L. Ellsworth, U.S. Geological Surveyor at the Earthquake Science Center, observed:

Human-induced earthquakes have become an important topic of political and scientific discussion, owing to the concern that these events may be responsible for widespread damage and an overall increase in seismicity. It has long been known that impoundment of reservoirs, surface and underground mining, withdrawal of fluids and gas from the subsurface, and injection of fluids into underground formations is capable of inducing earthquakes.

While companies such as BP have a history of acting with profits as their main priority, it is time that they take a step back and properly evaluate their actions before they once again cause irreparable damage to our Gulf Coast community and environment. If you need more information on this subject, contact John Tomlinson, a lawyer in our firm’s Toxic Torts Section, at 800-898-2034 or by email at John.Tomlinson@beasleyallen.com. John has been actively involved in the BP oil spill litigation over the past three years.

Source: Bloomberg News

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