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Fracking: What Is It, And Why Is It So Controversial?

Drilling for natural gas could have lasting effects on drinking water

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[ Science]

There’s a lot of talk in the news lately about the practice of “fracking“…and before you ask, no, I’m not talking about an expletive from Battlestar Galactica.

The process of fracking (which is short for hydraulic fracturing) involves unearthing shale gas deposits via wells, which can make landowners rich but can have serious adverse affects on drinking water and the health of nearby residents. In fact, a moratorium has been placed on shale gas development in New York state until further study can be done on it by the Department of Environmental Conservation. North Carolina is having serious doubts about it, as well, with state regulators saying that because their natural gas reserves are much closer to groundwater than in other places, the risk for them is greater.

The problems that arise from fracking affect farmers in multiple ways; reports of well contamination are rampant on farms that have allowed contractors to come in to gain access to the gas, as well as loss of timber and croplands. In Louisiana, reports of several dairy cows becoming casualty to contaminated water have scared off some people from the idea. The industrialization that comes with it causes more harm than good, some say.

But the discovery of natural resources like this mean big money for farmers, who can’t turn it down when they struggle every year with debt and the cost of keeping up their property. It could end up hurting them in the long run, however, since once word spread about the contamination issue, many are loathe to buy products from a farm that allows fracking.

But those in the fracking business insist it is misunderstood and is completely safe when done correctly.

“A lot of these chemicals are chemicals people come into contact with in their everyday lives,” said Simon Lomax, research director at Energy In Depth. “The point is they are to be used as directed.”

Fracking: What Is It, And Why Is It So Controversial?
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  • Robb Thiel

    Hydraulic fracturing has been used for decades. It is safe. There is no groundwater at the depth that wellbore stimulation is being used that is not put there during the frac job. All of the water used during the stimulation or “frac job” (there is no “k” in frac. The media came up with that one)is returned to the surface as “produced” or “production” water, and is treated, not just dumped on the ground. Wellsites have become “no-spill” zones, and even spilling clean water on the ground is forbidden. Don’t be afraid, people die from eating e.coli every year, but nobody is banning that!

    • Dave Olsen

      You’re right when a responsible company does fracing there should be no problem with contamination of the ground water. I worked for oil companies for 34 years and never heard of them having problems by trying to save money.
      There’s not mention in the story how deep the water is and how deep the gas zone is. Is this responsible reporting when you just use generalizations.

    • Randy

      Always glad to see people who know the truth, who are not influenced by a combination of unfounded hysteria and the REAL reason people are against fracking – that its on their list of non-green energy sources. The left hates the fact that energy they are trying to ban is so easily available, and relatively cheap. The “enviros” never cared about the environment or people, they care about taking away bountiful sources of cheap energy in order to control the populace. They are statists who need to keep the people clustered and dependent on the government. That has always been the root cause of the so-called environmentalists. The true believing followers – like these celebrities – are uninformed and silly. The movers and shakers are cynical liars, creating fear in order to gain control.

      • Rick

        You need to realize – that environmentalists are NOT the issue here. Don’t cloud the issue. The issue is that horizontal fracing is dangerous – pure and simple. What happens to our environment affects everyone – including you and your quality of life. You may be willing to forego your quality of life – for the pursuit of the almighty dollar or to have cheap non-renewable environmentally dangerous fuel – but you do not speak on behalf of the entire human race and certainly do not speak for all the other life that coexists on this planet. Let’s stop exploiting unsafe, non-renewable fuel sources and start putting our dollars and our minds to finding and creating renewable fuel resources that do not require the killing our earth. It is presumptuous to believe that the earth was created for our use alone. If it was, there would be no other life for us rely on for our food or the very air we breathe.

    • JOHN CONLON

      This person is a tool. How many videos of people lighting their faucet water on fire does it take. Fracking has ruined hundreds, maybe thousands of peoples home wells.

    • Tony

      Robb – you need to be more truthful when you make statements. The type of fracking that has been “used for decades” is not horizontal fracking, its old fashioned vertical fracking that nobody had any issue with. The horizontal type is very new and very different, because it spreads the influence of the water and chemicals and, frankly, the fracturing of the rock over a much wider area. Its the horizontal variety that has caused earthquakes in Ohio and England and contaminated wells throughout Pennsylvania and Wyoming. Furthermore, the “spilling” of frack fluid on the ground is not the issue – its the penetration of frack fluid into the aquifer as part of the normal fracking process. Nobody really knows for sure where all those carcinigenic chemicals go once they enter the earth, not to mention all the naturally occurring radioactive compounds that are released from the rock. Read up – its scary stuff. Lets get our priorities straight. Humans need fresh water to survive, not cheap natural gas.

    • Earnest Buck

      FOOL !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Duff

    Uh ya, it is only safe if the big boys do it. I seem to remember a few oil spills from the big boys in the last 2 years that did a shit ton more damage then fracking will ever do.

  • Gregory Johnson

    I think the key words here are if use as directed, well, I have read articles where livestock are becoming contaminated from drinnking the water, so it is either being used improperly by a number of people, or it is not as safe as they say it is.

  • Gregory Johnson

    Now, our farmers, love farming, otherwise they would not be doing it, they also need a second source of income in order to continue to operate, so the natural gas people have to be sensitive to this.

  • Lindsey

    I know too many big oil companies that cut corners to make a profit. So you may say this is a safe process if done correctly, but I am sure there are corners being cut at the risk of the public’s safety. No thanks.

    • Rich

      Big Oil are the last to make “cuts” to corners. They spend more money on research and helping our planet than any other industry. I have seen it first hand. If you really want the answers, ask the gas and oil companies themselves. They would be happy to show you all of the safety procedures that are not only in place for the water but are in place for the future effects the project may have on water, plants, air, animals, humans, etc. Again, ask the source.

      • Brian

        Hey Rich, what “safety procedure” did they have in place when an oil tank spilled or an oil well spits out oil at the bottom of the ocean. Oh thats right, my tax dollars paid for all of that, while gas is nearly $4.00 per gallon. I dont trust anyone that can make a profit from drilling to not “cut corners”.

  • Anne-Marie

    It is true there is non-potable water at the drilling depth – the issue with contamination comes in when the “production water” is either allowed to run off (as it was here in Wyoming for a number of years before Montana threatened a lawsuit for contamination of the Powder River) or pumped back in the ground without regard for the level of the water table. Recently, the governor of Wyoming asked the EPA to hold off on a report of water contamination in Pavillion until the deleterious effects of the findings could be mitigated and a positive spin could be put on the outcome – because the reverse pumping introduced fracing chemis to the groundwater (right again, no “k”). Partially, that was because the run off was upslope from the water supply and the drilling wasn’t rigorously checked for potential issues (some geologist wasn’t paying attention).
    Further, improperly sealed well casing allows gas to seep into the aquifer through the same cracks that fracing opens for production – introducing methane and more to the water system as well as the gel compounds. Yes, big drillers do cut corners – especially if there isn’t an environmental check in place to prevent it. For example, companies in Wyoming are not required to directionally drill (they claim it costs too much to do it), yet back East, that type of drilling is all that’s allowed as it causes less damage to the flora and fauna.
    Finally, anybody who tells you those chemicals are safe is probably also trying to sell you beachfront property in Arizona – they are toxic, carcinogenic and explosive – even when handled properly.

  • http://Yahoo Rich

    you all should read Brian Sussman, book ECO-TRYANNY either reaffirmed your arguements or awaken you to the actually reality of our country’s energy policies, ETC also with all the technolgy this country has who would be better to development and harvest additional resources, China , Russia, Cuba or so other country that has little or no regard for their actions

  • Ken Davis

    Key Words: “When done correctly” Therein lies the rub. When businesses clamor for the almighty dollar without thought or reason, we get serious problems like contamination. Once a well is contaminated, that’s it. We can delve into the earth for resources but look at what strip miners have done. Devastating woodlands & forests willy nilly. Sorry but I say NO to fracking.

  • Anitra

    The article is the worst! The comments below it, however, bring some actuall insight into the subject. Thank’s every one who sited sources and personal excperience. It bring’s us closer to an answer when we see thing’s in the proper light. In order to do that, we have to see all the angles. What could happen if fracing is used improperley is pure devistation. What could happen if it were used properly is quite advantageous. I must err on the side of caution however, mostly because I’m very pesimistic when it comes to trusting companies to “do the right thing”.

  • chris m

    just ask a land owner who lives in close proximity to a shale,if their well water is extra soft,, then ask them if fractureing has been employed in persuit of exploration,,, u might be supprised at their answer

  • Darin

    this is funny no one wants to look at the cheapest and safest (yes I said safest, safer then coal and natural gas) and also the cleanest, nuclear power. Yes nuclear power does not contaminat the ground water does not pollute the air we breath. For all your tiny brains to ponder about for the 5 sec attection span you have no one in japan or around russia where ever exposed to more radiation then they had already got from a month of normal sun exposer.

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