Wednesday, March 9, 2011

What's the problem with fracking?

Natural gas has shown promise as a greener alternative to coal and oil, as it emits less sulfur dioxide, mercury, nitrogen oxide, and carbon dioxide, but if burned inefficiently it may emit more methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas. (EPA, 2007) The reserve of natural gas in the Marcellus Shale in particular, which lays deep in the Earth's crust and stretches up the East Coast from Virginia to New York, and spreads into Ohio and parts of Tennesee and Kentucky, is believed to be vast enough that it could reduce the US dependence on foreign oil. One recent estimate states that there as much as 50 trillion cubic feet of gas could be recovered from the Marcellus Shale (only 10% of what is trapped there!), which has a commercial value of about 1 trillion dollars! (Englander and Lash, 2008). A new method of natural gas mining called hydraulic fractionation or "hydrofracking" makes that previously unattainable gas available for use. Many environmental groups have celebrated natural gas as a suitable fuel source to meet energy needs while truly renewable energy sources are developed and made commercially available. However, as more research comes to light about the environmental impact of hydrofracking, more and more people are wondering if it is worth the risk. (Urbina, 2011)

In fact, the New York Times article cited for this information goes on to unveil hundreds of research documents showing the potential for contamination from fracking. The first I would like to call attention to is an interactive map of testing done by the New York Times on well water near fracking sites. The map shows the range of contamination and number of Pennsylvania wells with levels above government safety levels of radium (42 wells), uranium (4 wells), benzene (41 wells), and gross alpha, which is a measure of the radiation produced by radium and uranium (128 wells). (White, Park, Urbina, and Palmer; 2011)
NYT - Interactive Hydrofracking Map

Works Cited

Natural Gas | Clean Energy | US EPA. (2007, December 28).US Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved March 9, 2011, from
Urbina, I. (2011, February 26). Regulation Lax as Gas Wells Tainted Water Hits Rivers - The New York Times - Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. Retrieved March 8, 2011, from
White, J., Park, H., Urbina, I., & Palmer, G. (2011, February 26). Toxic Contamination From Natural Gas Wells - Interactive Feature - The New York Times - Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. Retrieved March 9, 2011, from

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