My column this week is going to focus on fracking. That probably sounds dirty, and it is. Fracking is a very dirty and dangerous practice — but fear not, it's not that kind of dirty.
Hydro-fracking, also called hydraulic fracturing, is a process of extracting natural gas from rocks deep underground. The process has the potential to make energy companies a lot of money. It also has the potential to do a lot of environmental damage.
I first learned about hydro-fracking from my roommate Liz while I was studying in Trinidad. Liz lives inMaryland and explained to me how bad hydro-fracking is for the environment.
At first, I was surprised because I thought natural gas supposed to be good for the environment, the “next great source for fuel.”
After all, we've all heard how natural gas doesn't pollute like coal because it doesn't release as much carbon dioxide.
But Liz explained the way hydro-fracking is used to extract gas from shale isn't good for the environment.
Once we were back in the states, she emailed a few articles to me and I began my research.
It turns out even though natural gas releases less carbon dioxide and less mercury than coal, natural gas is also known as methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
To extract methane, energy companies inject millions of gallons of water and chemicals (most of the time the exact chemical ingredients are kept secret) into the earth at high pressures to break up rock formations and release natural gas trapped inside.
According toCornell University biogeochemist Robert Howarth, some methane escapes into the ground in the period between when the water and chemicals are injected and when the methane is harvested.
Gas companies say it is not yet economical to capture the escaping methane, according to Howarth.
Escaping methane gas is not the only problem with hydro-fracking. When the water and chemicals are pumped into the ground to extract the gas, the result is chemicals and methane contaminating ground water, which often winds up as drinking water.
Methane is not regulated in drinking water because it doesn't alter the color, taste or odor and is not known to alter its drinkability.
However, methane can pose an explosion hazard in confined spaces when it moves from the water to the air, according to Robert Jackson from the Center on Global Change from Duke University.
InPennsylvania, there have been many reports of drinking water containing high levels of methane because of hydro-fracking. Houses have even exploded, and in one instance in 2004, three people died in an explosion caused by a buildup of methane coming from the drinking water.
I have also read disturbing reports that hydro-fracking can cause an increase in earthquakes because it can disrupt fault lines. The jury is still out for me on this — I'm not convinced that seems possible — but if it's true, it's yet another reason hydro-fracking is a bad idea.
More research should be done before energy companies are allowed to continue hydro-fracking for gas.
There are other energy options out there, and I'm pretty sure there are plenty that avoid polluting ground water and putting explosive methane into the environment.
Amanda's Animal Fact of the Week
A group of cicadas is called a cloud or a plague.