Assessing environmental and health impacts of hydraulic fracturing


In recent years, the extraction of natural gas and oil through hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, has gained significant attention worldwide. This controversial method involves injecting a mixture of water, chemicals and sand deep into the earth to release valuable hydrocarbon reserves. While fracking has fuelled economic growth and energy independence in some countries, its environmental and health impacts have sparked heated debates.

Before we delve into this subject, let’s talk about how developed nations are grappling with the effects of hydraulic fracking. Fracking, as it’s also termed, has significantly impacted developed nations like the US, Canada and the UK, providing increased access to natural gas and oil reserves.

However, environmental concerns have emerged, including water contamination and the potential migration of harmful substances into groundwater sources. The release of methane, a greenhouse gas, during the extraction process has contributed to climate change concerns.

Fracking operations have led to adverse health effects in communities, including air pollution, noise pollution, and infrastructure disruptions. Regulatory frameworks struggle to keep up with the rapid expansion, resulting in debates over oversight and accountability.

Balancing economic benefits like job creation and energy independence with public health and environmental protection is challenging for policy-makers. Many developed nations are reevaluating their reliance on fracking, with some imposing moratoriums or bans, while others increase regulations and strengthen oversight. This highlights the complexity of managing hydraulic fracking’s impact in developed nations, balancing energy demands, environmental stewardship and public health considerations.

Ghana, a country with substantial oil and gas resources, has been considering the utilisation of hydraulic fracturing techniques to tap into its shale gas and oil reserves. However, this pursuit raises critical questions about the long-term consequences of such an endeavour. Concerned stakeholders are seeking a comprehensive understanding of the potential environmental hazards and health risks associated with fracking activities.

Hydraulic fracturing in Ghana has the potential to significantly impact the environment, as the country explores fracking for shale gas and oil reserves. Assessing the environmental risks associated with fracking is crucial, considering water resources, pollution, land degradation, biodiversity, wildlife habitats, and health consequences for local communities.

Risks to water resources

Groundwater contamination is a major concern due to the injection of water mixed with chemicals and sand during fracking. Chemical leaks and spills from faulty wells or storage tanks can lead to toxic fracking fluids, contaminating groundwater sources and jeopardising the quality and availability of safe drinking water for nearby communities.

Fracking wastewater disposal presents challenges due to its potential contamination of surface water bodies and radioactive materials. Inadequate management and treatment can lead to improper discharge or spills during transportation, posing risks to water bodies and the environment.

Release of pollutants into the atmosphere

Fracking operations can release pollutants into the atmosphere, contributing to air pollution. The drilling, extraction and processing stages emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs), nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur dioxide (SO2), and fine particulate matter. These pollutants can have adverse effects on air quality, leading to respiratory issues, cardiovascular problems, and exacerbation of existing health conditions. Additionally, the release of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, during the extraction process contributes to climate change.

Degradation of land and ecosystems

Fracking activities can cause land degradation and disruption of ecosystems. The construction of well pads, access roads, and infrastructure can lead to habitat fragmentation and loss. This can disrupt wildlife populations, affect migration patterns, and alter the balance of ecosystems. The removal of vegetation and soil disturbance during site preparation can further contribute to erosion, reducing soil fertility and impacting agricultural productivity in affected areas.

Impact on biodiversity and wildlife habitats

The disruption and destruction of natural habitats due to fracking operations can have a detrimental impact on biodiversity and wildlife populations. Many species rely on intact habitats for survival, and the fragmentation of ecosystems can disrupt their reproductive cycles, feeding patterns and overall viability. Additionally, the extraction process and associated infrastructure can lead to increased noise levels which can further disturb wildlife and impact their behaviour and well-being.

Potential health consequences for local communities

Fracking activities raise concerns about potential health consequences for nearby communities. The release of pollutants into the air, such as VOCs and particulate matter, can lead to respiratory problems, including asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory illnesses.

The proximity to fracking operations may also cause stress and anxiety among residents due to concerns about water contamination, air pollution, and overall quality of life. Furthermore, the potential exposure to toxic chemicals used in fracking fluids raises questions about the long-term health effects, including the potential for neurological disorders, endocrine disruption, and increased cancer risks.

Hydraulic fracturing in Ghana poses environmental risks, including water resource contamination, air pollution, climate change, land degradation, ecosystem disruption, and health consequences. Monitoring and regulations are essential to align shale gas and oil reserves with sustainable development principles and people’s well-being.

Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any organisation.

>>>I’ll be your wingman on your health journey! The writer is a public health professional with a Master’s degree from the University of Illinois at Springfield, USA and works as a Medical Fraud Analyst at the Illinois Office of Inspector-General. He founded GD Consult in Ghana to promote healthy lifestyles and developed innovative projects, such as a Health Risk Assessment Model for hydraulic fracking operations. He can be reached via [email protected]

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