Hydraulic fracturing, better known as “fracking” is the process of extracting natural gas from the ground. With the discovery of the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania, the state has seen a mass influx of oil companies wishing to buy up land in order to drill for natural gas. With the release of 2011’s Gasland, director Josh Fox heavily criticized the process. He claimed that fracking imposes serious health and environmental risks. In the photo below, he is lighting a water faucet in a Colorado home to demonstrate how flammable the natural gas makes the water.
Clearly, the film industry and consequently the media play a role in public opinion of natural gas drilling. A complicated process, fracking has gotten a bad reputation as only particular aspects have been reported. In this Forbes Feb. 8 article, contributor James Conca cites a Research ANd Development (RAND) study on environmental effects of drilling in Pennsylvania. It “estimated these damages to range between $7.2 and $32 million dollars in 2011.” This was compared to the estimated $75 million in estimated annual damages produced by one of Pennsylvania’s single coal-fired power plant in 2008. By this comparison, natural gas drilling is not nearly as environmentally detrimental as the public may perceive it. In fact, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP) required natural gas companies like Chevron to abide by tougher emission standards to acquire land permits. Short-term air quality tests conducted by the PA DEP could not find any compounds that would contribute to health issues associated with the Marcellus Shale. Since 2008 when shale drilling took off, the PA DEP reported that since then and 2011, emissions across the state have actually decreased.
So what does this natural gas “fracking” have to do with everyday residents? It firstly is important to do research on this new energy source; biased Hollywood exposes do not count in this category. However, natural gas extraction is a very new process in the United States, and does affect lands, economies, and citizens’ lives. If we are to make a switch from petroleum and coal to natural gas for our energy, it is pivotal to better understand the pros and cons. It is only until then that we can support particular energy policies and corporations with confidence.
Written by Lindsay Finan