Digging into Fracking Repercussions

Friday, April 15, 2011 @ 05:04 PM gHale

Producing more energy in the U.S. has a promising future when you look at the possibilities of the Marcellus shale deposits. But then again, there are issues and they all center around fracking.

Fracking involves using millions of gallons of water, sand and a chemical cocktail to break up organic-rich shale to release natural gas resources, said Deborah Kittner, a University of Cincinnati doctoral student in geography, who wrote a research paper, entitled “What’s the Fracking Problem? Extraction Industry’s Neglect of the Locals in the Pennsylvania Marcellus Region.” The process also has environmental issues as Pittsburgh outlawed fracking in its city limits as has Buffalo, NY, amid concerns chemical leaks could contaminate groundwater, wells and other water resources.

The EPA is now doing additional study on the relationship of fracking and drinking water and groundwater after congress stated its concern about the potential adverse impact the process may have on water quality and public health. Kittner attended an EPA hearing and also interviewed people in the hydraulic fracturing industry. She said the industry to date has garnered billions of dollars in investments from domestic as well as international sources.

The chemical cocktail used in the process is actually relatively small. The mixture is about 95-percent water, nearly five percent sand, and the rest chemical, yet, Kittner said some of those chemicals are toxins and carcinogens, so there is a “not in my backyard” backlash from communities. The flow-back water from drilling is naturally a very salty brine, prone to bacterial growth, and potentially contaminated with heavy metals, Kittner said. In addition, there’s the question of how to properly dispose of millions of gallons of contaminated water, as well as concerns about trucking it on winding, rural back roads.

Based on her research, Kittner said overall, the industry is “working to be environmentally responsible, and it becomes frustrated at companies that do otherwise.”

“I think that the study that the EPA is doing is going to be really helpful, and the industry – however reluctant to new regulations – is working with the EPA on this,” Kittner said.

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