Over the past decade, hydraulic fracturing – also known as fracking – has become a controversial issue across the U.S., particularly in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania is home to the Marcellus Shale, the largest deposit of shale gas reserves in the country. The proximity of this formation to the large population centers on the east coast has made it a prime target for development by energy companies.
Much of the debate about fracking is centered on the potentially dire environmental effects of the practice and the possibility of contaminated drinking water, which could cause significant injury to those living in areas where gas is being extracted. One often overlooked danger is the increased risk of truck accidents posed by large tanker trucks traveling to and from fracking sites.
The Fracking Process
Several decades ago, engineers discovered that injecting a mixture of sand, water and chemicals into a shale formation allowed them to collect natural gas and oil as it was released. As the technology developed, companies used new drilling methods and different chemical mixtures to make the process more efficient and to release gas they had previously been unable to recover. Fracking has allowed companies to exploit gas and oil deposits not only in the Appalachian Basin, but also in states such as North Dakota and Texas.
This process requires large water tanker trucks to carry fracking liquid – a proprietary mixture of salt, water and harsh chemicals generally referred to as “brine” – to each worksite. Trucks must also transport the wastewater from the process from the site to disposal wells.
Dangers Posed By Tanker Trucks
Like other large commercial trucks, the water tankers required for the fracking process are generally more difficult to maneuver and stop than passenger vehicles simply because of their size and weight. If involved in an accident, the contents of the tanker can spill, releasing toxic chemicals onto the roadway and creating an additional hazard for other drivers. Furthermore, most fracking sites are in rural areas that lack the infrastructure required to allow large trucks to share the road safely with smaller passenger vehicles.
While questions remain about the long term environmental effects of fracking and whether it is safe, the dangers posed by tanker trucks are clear. Unfortunately, as fracking becomes more common, residents of Pennsylvania are likely to see more of these trucks on their highways.