A recent article in Hatch Magazine reports a series of earthquakes in Ohio culminating in a 4.0 magnitude quake on December 31st, 2011. Scientists in the region and around the globe are beginning to conclude that hydraulic fracking may be correlated with these earthquake events. Worse yet for local ecosystems, the process involves the generation of chemical- and radiation-laced wastewater, which has been traced to contamination of groundwater and surface water such as lakes.

Hydraulic fracturing, more commonly known as fracking, involves drilling deep into underground rock and injecting chemical-laden pressurized water to allow gas and oil to escape. The environmental ramifications of fracking are extensive, including the paving of access roads over environmentally sensitive lands, impacts on aquatic ecosystems, and growing links with seismic activity.

Larry Brown, Chair of the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Cornell University, explains that it may not be the fracking process itself, but the wastewater disposal portion of these drilling operations, that are connected to an increase in seismic activity. When high-pressure wastewater is injected into disposal wells, it “greases” the wheels of a latent earthquake process that is just waiting to be triggered.

ACT released its Climate Change Adaptation and Water Governance report in October 2011, authored by eminent Canadian water expert, Bob Sandford. One of the report’s recommendations states: “Governments at all levels (in Canada) must recognize the importance of groundwater, understand and value its role in creating a sustainable future for Canada.” Groundwater in the Canadian context is a valuable source of drinking water for many communities.

Groundwater contamination and unpredictable seismic activity are two pressing long-term consequences of fracking that we cannot afford to neglect. These issues beg the question: If we were to value water the same way we do oil, would we be tempted to continue using it in environmentally destructive ways?

Moreover, if people answer yes to this question, is it really worth injecting pressurized water into the ground when this process increases the risk of earthquakes?