Natural Gas

Fracking’s Narrow Middle Ground

A study that came out last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences added fuel to the fires that rage on both sides of the debate over hydraulic fracturing. If you’ve read about this study already, you likely know that it provided evidence that those flaming faucets of YouTube fame are indeed a result of shale gas fracturing – a no-duh conclusion that drilling companies disputed.

But what you likely haven’t heard from those stories (or don’t remember because it comprised only a tiny sentence at the bottom) is that, while there is a link between the high concentration of natural gas in a well and fracking operations, the mixture of drilling chemicals injected into the ground to force the natural gas out did not contaminate the drinking wells examined in the study. This is significant, given that a great deal of the concern with fracking operations stems from fear of well contamination by this cocktail of chemicals.

The only thing I advocate strongly in this debate – and, indeed, in most debates – is a respect for nuance. As such, I’m not going to say this study represents a “victory” for one side or the other – nor will I say that we should all embrace fracking or that we should ban it everywhere. But I do think this study helps bring the picture of this type of drilling into a little bit clearer focus. It shows us that this method of energy extraction is likely not as dangerous as we thought it would be, which leaves open the possibility that we could count on fracking to supply some of the country’s natural gas needs.

Emphasis there, by the way, is on “possibility” and “could,” because one study cannot prove something conclusively across an entire range of gas wells in different states and circumstances. And that’s why I am still hopeful that Congress passes the FRAC Act. Greater transparency will allow us to make better, more-informed decisions about our energy resources. And more information is something I feel quite comfortable advocating strongly about.

Posted by Laura Williams on May 16, 2011