Mining industries have seldom made many friends among environmentalists, but critics have generally faced at least one uphill battle: most mining operations provide many local jobs that are badly needed in rural areas. That is why it is a little unusual to see a variety of groups that rarely agree on mining ventures -- citizenry, activists. and federal and state environmental interests – lining up against hydraulic fracturing.
What is Fracking?
Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking", is an extraction method to get unconventional natural gas out of shale. A deep well is drilled to a layer of shale 5,000 to 20,000 feet underground. Then, high volumes of a high pressure fluid mixture of water, sand and a mix of chemicals is blasted into the well, fracturing the gas-rich rock and breaking apart the shale to release natural gas. This gas flows into the fractures, and is then pumped to the surface to be processed and transported.
There is an increasing amount of political momentum building up against the fracking process, and it is difficult to find many people other than those in natural gas and oil industries who support the practice of hydraulic fracturing. A recent study by Congressional Democrats officially determined that between 2005 to 2009, hundreds of millions of gallons of carcinogenic or hazardous chemicals were injected into wells in more than 13 states by oil and gas companies, and a 2011 congressional report found that 10.2 million gallons of chemicals were injected by the 14 leading hydraulic fracturing companies in the U.S. These chemicals found in frack water include methanol, lead, benzene, formaldehyde, diesel fuel, crystalline silica, sulfuric acid and hydrogen fluoride.
Advocates of fracking claim that frack water can be treated and safely discharged into local environments. Other benefits claimed by fracking supporters are:
- Extracting natural deep-shale gas and oil is one of the fastest growing methods of U.S. domestic energy production.
- Fracking produces a clean, natural gas, ensuring that America becomes less dependent on energy-rich foreign nations.
- President Obama stated that in the next eight years the natural gas industry could create 600,000 jobs.
Critics of the fracking process claim:
- Fracking fluids in the form of gels, liquids and foams can contain a combinationof any chemical ingredients.
- Chemicals used in fracturing fluid contain known carcinogens, skin irritants and endocrine disruptors.
- The hydraulic fracturing industry, claiming “intellectual property rights", often refuses to disclose which exact chemical combinations they are pumping into the ground.
- Fracking is responsible for such contamination of tap water that it becomes flammable.
In order to develop comprehensive rules protecting state water and air, New York State has placed temporarily bans on some types of fracking. At the same time, the largest gas producers are creating public relations campaigns to convince Americans of the environmental safety of fracking, and gas-rich states such as Arkansas, Texas, Wyoming and Michigan are busy passing industry-friendly laws which some federal officials and environmentalists claim will endanger residents residing near mine operations.
So what does it all mean? The controversy over the regulation of the fracking process is shaping up to be an enormous political fight of state-versus-federal proportions, with environmentalists and mining interests facing off in the near future.