Hydraulic fracturing has been seen as one of the key methods of extracting unconventional oil and gas resources and has, for decades, been the subject of much debate as environmental campaigns fight against its impact on the planet which include substantial water pollution. New tracers have been invented to identify fracking fluids released into the environment.
Hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" is a technique of injecting high pressure fracking fluids (water and chemicals) into the rock formation to create cracks in the deep earth to allow natural gas, petroleum and brine to flow freely in order to ease the extraction works. Since the 1940s, hydraulic fracturing operations have been performed worldwide on oil and gas wells.
Research has been done that finds a correlation between hydraulic fracturing and small earthquakes. Even more studies show evidence of fracking leading to groundwater contamination. A study by the New York Times in early 2011 revealed that the wastewater, which can total more than 1 million gallons per drilling, can flow back from fracking and drilling. This water contains enriched boron and lithium released from the shale formation and leaves radioactive materials, such as uranium, radium and radon in the ground with a high potential to contaminate our drinking water.
With the support of the National Science Foundation, scientists have identified new geochemical tracers that can identify fracking fluids that accidentally leak into the ground. The device can distinguish the fluids from wastewater coming from other sources, and it helps identify ways to improve how shale gas wastewater is treated and disposed of. The section head in NSF's Division of Earth Sciences, who funded the research, said:
"With increasing exploitation of unconventional oil and gas reservoirs through the use of hydraulic fracturing, it's important that we are able to assess the extent of hydraulic fracturing fluids entering the environment,"
These new boron and lithium tracers can detect this shale gas wastewater when it’s brought back to the surface, and they do not depend on operators to add them to the injected fluids in the first place, making the method more reliable for enforcement purposes, according to Treehugger.
Frackers and polluters should pay their externalities – and regulators should take advantage of device like this to crack down on fracking operators and bad management practices.