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What is Fracking?

…and why should you care?

People are talking about Fracking. 

The country’s largest fracking site, a 350 million-year-old formation called the Marcellus Shale, spans the states of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Maryland.

So what is fracking?  And why should you care?

Hydraulic fracturing has been around for decades. Oklahoma-based Natural Gas  producer Chesapeake Energy explains that “Hydraulic fracturing is a proven technological advancement which allows producers to safely recover natural gas and oil from deep shale formations.”

On the other hand, The Environmental Working Group (EWG) explains that now, natural gas producers are deploying a new gas drilling method called high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing to release gas locked in previously untapped shale formations.

Current fracking techniques use an accelerated process different from that of the past.

The New York Times reports that this “carries significant environmental risks. It involves injecting huge amounts of water, mixed with sand and chemicals, at high pressures to break up rock formations and release the gas…With hydrofracking, a well can produce over a million gallons of waste water that is often laced with highly corrosive salts, carcinogens like benzene and radioactive elements like radium, all of which can occur naturally thousands of feet underground.”  The most commonly used chemicals include carcinogens such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene and other toxins.

In 2011, according to a report by the Department of Energy's outside advisory panel on natural gas, shale gas reached 29 percent of total dry gas production in the lower 48 states, which is up from 6 percent in 2006.

Drillers claim fracking does not pollute ground water and underground water supplies.  However, according to EWG, “growing numbers of Americans, many in rural communities, report that wells and other water sources have become unusable since fracking operations started up nearby.”

In addition to the threat to water through contamination and the use of toxic chemicals, and the risk of air pollution, fracking is dangerous in other ways as well. 

There have been explosions – such as the one in Ohio in 2007.  There has been water contamination - in 2008 in Pennsylvania it was found that drilling waste water contaminated the Monongahela River.

There have been chemical spills – In 2009 Pennsylvania authorities fined Cabot Oil & Gas $56,650 for three spills of hydraulic fracturing fluid near the town of Dimock.

Truck traffic is increased – EWG notes that “drilling can require 1,300 truck trips per well, often in areas where roads do not exist or are not built to handle heavy trucks. Trucks cause significant air and noise pollution and can spill their loads, endangering water supplies.”

In January 2012, Christopher Portier, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Environmental Health and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, argued that additional studies needed to be carried out to determine whether waste water from the fracking wells can harm people or animals and vegetables they eat.  That same month a group of U.S. doctors “called for a moratorium on fracking in populated areas until such studies had been done” according to a Bloomberg article.

Marylanders should take note: This is happening in our state and there are no plans to let up. It's dangerous and bad for all of our health.

Fracking is not a partisan issue.  President Obama voiced his support for the practice of fracking during his State of the Union address in January 2012.  He, and all of the Republican nominees for President, take campaign contributions from the gas and oil industry. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, however, Republican candidates receive approximately four times as much money. 

All candidates support hydraulic fracturing. However, a report by the Associated Press earlier this month notes that the majority of US citizens do not support hydraulic fracturing, regardless of party.

MikeC March 10, 2012 at 01:33 PM
Very informative! Although I would like for there to be cleaner sources of energy in our country I realize there is some time before cost effective and more efficient means are available to the public, so a reliance on fossil fuels for now seems inevitable. Natural gas is abundant and cleaner than oil, but fracking is too dangerous to continue. We need a safer means for natural gas extraction. And we need a "Manhattan Project" effort by our government for future energy solutions!
Liz Rosenbaum March 10, 2012 at 01:50 PM
Great article, Kim. Thanks! There's more and more evidence of the unacceptable risks posed by hydro-fracking, yet PA legislators seem to function in a Fact-Free Zone. Currently, they are planning huge water withdrawals from the Susquehanna River Basin, despite increasingly loud protests from citizens. Water withdrawals of this scale will directly impact the quality of water in the Chesapeake. To oppose this latest assault on our watersheds, visit http://www.facebook.com/events/388206217875000/ and plan to join the Phone Blitz on March 14th, 9am - 5pm. We can live without gas, but we can't live without water....
Deb N March 12, 2012 at 12:29 PM
You only have to drive through Dimock, PA (as we do to visit relatives 4 times a year) to see the awful damage it has done to that town. Dimock homeowners whose water wells had been contaminated with high levels of methane are in a winless battle. They live on bottled water now. The main roadways have been damaged by the massive trucks that flow past their homes daily to the fields. The town is just...dirty from all of the truck traffic. The terrain has been ripped up and destroyed, the landscape changed forever. Give Dimock, PA a search, and get informed.

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