Hydraulic fracturing is probably something many students have heard about in the news recently, but might not fully understand.
‘Fracking,’ as it is commonly called, in a simple sense, is the process of extracting natural gas from deep layers of rock beneath the earth’s surface.
It is done by drilling down thousands of feet into the ground until it hits the layer of shale rock, which holds the natural gas. After the well has been drilled, fracking fluid, a mixture of water, sand, and other chemicals, is pressurized and blasted to create fractures within the shale, releasing natural gas through the fractures.
It’s a pretty interesting technology that brings in a lot of money and jobs to the state, as well as an efficient source of energy.
But is it safe for the environment?
That has been an issue for as long as the practice has been around, and the answer seems to remain unclear.
The Environmental Protection Agency declared fracking safe after a study they conducted in 2004, claiming there is little risk of fracturing fluid contaminating drinking water.
But last year, the EPA officially linked fracking to water contamination found in the small town of Pavillion, Wyo.
Scientists for the EPA found extremely high levels of benzene, a known carcinogen, in the water, as well as other chemicals like synthetic glycol and alcohol. All of which are common ingredients in fracking fluid.
A study conducted last year by Duke University also linked fracking to water contamination.
The study examined 68 wells in the Marcellus and Utica shale drilling areas in Pennsylvania and southern New York, and found that 60 of them had levels of methane. The wells considered to be in the active drilling zones had average methane levels beyond what the U.S. Department of Interior considers to be “dangerous.”
High levels of methane in water can cause water wells to explode and can allow water from a regular faucet to be lit on fire.
But beyond the issue of the drilling practice contaminating our drinking water, there also is the issue of it contaminating soil and other water sources.
If the process is contaminating something as noticeable as water supplies, questions about what it is doing to various other parts of the environment can arise.
More research needs to be done in order for us to be comfortable with fracking.
While we recognize it as an easy source for energy, people should not simply overlook environmental and safety concerns for a quicker way to get natural gas.
This doesn’t seem to be the main priority so far though. The EPA doesn’t even require drilling companies to state what chemicals they are putting in their fracking fluid cocktail.
Simple measures like this need to change.
Because when it comes to the environment, it’s better to be safe than sorry.