Hydraulic fracturing of natural gas wells incites powerful emotions. How much of the hype is justified?
September 13, 2011
There are few technologies today quite so popularly disliked today as fracking, short for hydraulic fracturing, the practice of pumping high-pressure water into natural gas reserves deep underground to break up the rock and make the gas easier to mine. Fracking has been harshly criticized all around the world as dangerous, and has even been banned in a number of countries.
There are charges that fracking uses toxic chemicals which contaminate ground water supplies; that it causes earthquakes; that it's killing endangered species; that tap water in fracking areas contains so much methane that it can actually burn; and that mysterious illnesses have resulted from the poisonous chemicals it pumps underground. Sound scary? It should. But how much of it is true? Fracking is a perfect place to turn our skeptical eye.
The 2010 movie Gasland brought these claims (and many others) to the public attention. Gasland painted a horrifying and emotionally charged picture of conspiracy, profiteering, environmental ruin, and the reckless wholesale poisoning of people and animals by the drilling companies. The energy industry was quick to respond to the apparent slander, even posting a web page called "Debunking Gasland" (and others) that not only denied virtually all of the movie's factual claims, but also was heavy on ad-hominem attacks against its maker, an activist whom they describe as an avant-garde stage director with no expertise in either geology or drilling. Whom should the average person on the street believe?
Unfortunately, they generally only hear from one of these sources or the other, and rarely or never get the unbiased, science-based facts.