Every year, more than 100 billion gallons of water are used in the United States for hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” a process that breaks up rock in order to force out millions of cubic feet of natural gas.
What people may not realize is that most of this water stays deep underground. The 20%–50% of water that comes back up to the surface (“flowback water”) is full of toxins that can’t be removed by normal water treatment, and the fracking industry is still struggling to figure out how to handle it. As for the water that remains below, it needs to stay far beneath even the deepest aquifers, away from the water we use for drinking and for agriculture, because otherwise it would poison them.
It’s not like when you use a gallon of water to take a shower or flush the toilet, where the water can be treated and put back into circulation, or like when a farmer uses a gallon to grow tomatoes, where the water returns to the natural cycle even more quickly. Most of the water used in fracking is permanently withdrawn from the cycle of life.
Other extractive industries also employ huge amounts of water. But fracking is unique, because the many billions of gallons of water involved are being used up, taken out of the cycle that would have seen them flow through the earth’s streams and seas and atmosphere as part of the life-blood of this planet, for potentially millions of years What does it mean to lose that water, essentially forever? According to Kabbalah, it could be considered a sin against the water itself.
The way the natural world is imagined in Kabbalah, its elements are yearning, longing, to be raised higher and higher into consciousness, into the process of life and love. This can happen whenever a more sentient life form like a human being takes in a more basic substance (like when we drink water or eat plants), and it happens through the process of evolution itself, where life comes from the elements and develops greater and greater capacities for connection and awareness.
In Kabbalah, the very symbol of blessing and life — of chesed (or “lovingkindness”) — is water. If we take these ideas seriously, then the water that stays in that fracked rock is deprived of fulfilling its deepest purpose.
By conventional environmental ethics, one should be thankful if most of the water stays far below ground. That’s because the blend of poison mixed into that water by the fracking company (to make it flow easily yet be dense enough to fissure rock), combined with the radioactive elements, heavy metals, hydrocarbons and concentrated salts it absorbs deep in the earth, makes it lethal and extremely difficult to treat.
Most of the protests against fracking focus on the fear that methane and fracking solution will seep, uncontrolled, up to the surface and into our groundwater or aquifers.