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Natural gas drilling is something I knew nothing about until recently. Based on what I’ve learned, I think it is an issue that way more people need to be aware of. Here is my brief summary.

There are two types of gas drilling. There is the conventional method, where the drilling is conducted into pockets or reservoirs to pull out natural gas. Then there’s the newer method that injects water, sand, and chemicals into tight shale deposits, horizontally fracturing the shale to release trapped gas. This is known as hydraulic fracturing, and it is a process used in 90% of natural gas wells in the United States.

Click on the thumbnail for a bigger view of this graphic, which gives a step-by-step breakdown of the process.

“Fracking” has had a negative impact on the environment. Calculations performed by the EPA show that at least nine hydraulic fracturing chemicals may be injected into or close to underground sources of drinking water at concentrations that pose a threat to human health. These chemicals may be injected at concentrations that are anywhere from 4 to almost 13,000 times the acceptable concentration in drinking water.

In the HBO documentary Gasland, filmmaker Josh Fox travels west to Wyoming and other surrounding states, where fracking is extremely prevalent. The documentary shows tap water so contaminated that it can be set on fire, chronically ill residents, and huge pools of toxic waste that kill livestock and vegetation. Watching this film was a real eye-opener for me and just before it was over, I found myself breathing a little sigh of relief, because at least this isn’t going on on the east coast. Right? Well, actually, no.

The Marcellus Shale is a unit of marine sedimentary rock found in eastern North America. Named for a distinctive outcrop near the village of Marcellus, New York, it extends throughout much of the Appalachian Basin. The Marcellus Shale could meet all the United States’ natural gas needs for more than two years, according to some geologists. With energy prices reaching record highs, at least nine companies are trying to lock up leases to drill in the Marcellus Shale, which lies as much as 9,000 feet beneath the earth’s surface under New York, Pennsylvania and the southern Appalachian states.

Luckily, this issue is starting to get a lot more attention. According to an article in The New York Times, “Democratic Reps. Diana DeGette and Jared Polis of Colorado and Maurice Hinchey of New York introduced legislation this summer that would require drilling companies to comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act and disclose the chemicals used in their hydraulic fracturing processes. Democratic Sens. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Charles Schumer of New York introduced companion legislation in the Senate.”

I know that there won’t be an end to this type of natural gas drilling, but I can only hope that we will see more regulations in the future. Do you want flammable tap water?

Additional sources consulted for this blog:

Hydraulic Fracturing 101

Pro Publica – Hydraulic Fracturing

The Wall Street Journal – Drilling Tactic Unleashes a Trove of Natural Gas—And a Backlash

WBFO, Buffalo – How hydraulic fracturing impacts environment

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