by Angela Hotaling
A biting controversial issue about the environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing has recently caught my interest. Hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, is the process of extracting natural gas from under the earth’s surface. Wells are drilled deep into the ground and then water, sand, and chemicals are pumped at high pressures to break shale formations and release pockets of natural gas. The gas industry has exploded over the past several years creating jobs and supplying energy; however not without stirring up some very hot debate in the process.
Last week, The New York Times published an article about hydraulic fracturing. The article, written by Clifford Krauss and Tom Zeller Jr., says, “Natural gas currently satisfies nearly a quarter of the nation’s power needs. And with vast methane reserves now available in previously inaccessible layers of shale deep underground, its position as a cornerstone of the domestic energy supply may well be secured for decades--if the public supports it.”
Families across the U.S have been paid large amounts of money by gas companies in order for drilling to take place on their land. The article talks about the De Soto Parish in Louisiana and how the gas boom contributed to an economic revival of the area.
On the other hand, many homeowners across the country that have agreed with gas companies to drill on their land or in their area have sued because of alleged water contamination. Similar stories have popped up all over: People are distressed about their health, the health of others, and possible groundwater contamination.
The plethora of underground shale is dispersed across the entire country but this issue is now especially relevant for those of us living in the northeast. The Marcellus Shale ranges from southern New York, to Pennsylvania, Ohio, and to parts of Virginia. The EPA is currently conducting a study about how dangerous the process of fracking can be for underground sources of water. Meanwhile, natural gas companies are denying responsibility for many of the cases reported. The possibility of contamination is evident considering many of the chemicals used in the process, but who takes responsibility when it all goes wrong? Furthermore, along with the potential for widespread health defects, there is the environmental cleanup to consider as well.
The documentary film Gasland made by Josh Fox is a budding environmental resource for raising awareness about risks of fracking and exposing the industry’s chicanery. The film’s factual validity has been attacked and questioned, but not without rebuttal; Fox confronts the attacks along with help from professionals on the film’s website. The film raises the issue of responsibility and also urges the public to rethink the natural gas industry’s attempt at trying to tap into the Marcellus shale.
Most of the drilling on the Marcellus shale has taken place in Pennsylvania. The New York Times blog, Green has covered the statewide regulations that have been in effect throughout New York and in some state owned land. EPA decisions regarding regulations for drilling in New York will be released in 2012. In a recent Connecticut Post article by Marc Levy, the new Republican governor of Pennsylvania, Tom Corbett “is seen as a lot friendlier toward the industry than outgoing Democrat Ed Rendell.” What will this mean for further exploitation of Pennsylvania’s land?
When decisions are made about regulations regarding drilling for gas, and even oil, it is difficult to believe that policy makers have value for the environment in mind. When one considers the issue for oneself, what is at stake must be measured against our personal, social, and nationwide values. For those that have been affected by natural gas drilling, the value of the money that they have made might not outweigh the health problems that they are now facing. In the film, Gasland, Fox’s personal value for the stream in which he grew up living next to pushed him to an emotional depth.
As it is with most complex issues, it’s difficult to find reliable information on fracking and its potential hazardous effects. It’s important to weigh the economic and environmental arguments on a scale of critical analysis and reflection. This matter is complicated as part of our country’s larger attempt to makes changes for more sustainable energy consumption; also because of the multifaceted ways to view and position this complex issue as having many sides to be considered.
For more information about Gasland, including screenings near you, visit the website at GaslandTheMovie.com.
Image of Marcellus Shale resident lighting his tap water on fire courtesy of GaslandTheMovie.com.