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Maybe you have heard the news stories about how some residents of rural New York State and Pennsylvania can ignite a stream of water flowing from their kitchen tap by holding a match or lighter next to it. They had clean drinking water from deep aquifers until the mining companies came to their county and began using hydraulic fractionation or "fracking" to extract shale gas.
Here is Wikipedia' definition of fracking:
"Hydraulic fracturing (called "frac jobs," "frac'ing," "fracking," or "Hydrofracking") is a process that results in the creation of fractures in rocks. The fracturing is done from a wellbore drilled into reservoir rock formations to increase the rate and ultimate recovery of oil and natural gas.
"Hydraulic fractures may be natural or man-made and are extended by internal fluid pressure which opens the fracture and causes it to extend through the rock. Natural hydraulic fractures include volcanic dikes, sills and fracturing by ice as in frost weathering. Man-made fluid-driven fractures are formed at depth in a borehole and extend into targeted formations. The fracture width is typically maintained after the injection by introducing a proppant into the injected fluid. Proppant is a material, such as grains of sand, ceramic, or other particulates, that prevent the fractures from closing when the injection is stopped."
As you read this, oil and gas companies are injecting toxic chemical fluids into the ground to release natural gas. The chemicals are not biodegradable, and they stay in the ground after the gas is extracted. Scientists believe these chemicals are poisoning America's drinking water -- and there are no federal laws right now to stop them from doing it.
While that sounds frightening, the most dangerous thing about fracking is that most people have never heard of it.
The carbon footprint of fracking is not sounding good, either. It starts with millions of gallons of fresh water being hauled by truck to the fracking operation sites.
A team of researchers from Cornell, including Robert Howarth, the David R. Atkinson Professor of Ecology and Environmental Biology, Tony Ingraffea, the Dwight C. Baum Professor of Engineering, and Renee Santoro, a research technician in ecology and evolutionary biology, has just completed the first peer-reviewed paper on methane emissions from shale gas.
"The take-home message of our study is that if you do an integration of 20 years following the development of the gas, shale gas is worse than conventional gas and is, in fact, worse than coal and worse than oil," Howarth said. "We are not advocating for more coal or oil, but rather to move to a truly green, renewable future as quickly as possible. We need to look at the true environmental consequences of shale gas."
Here in Maine, less than 1% of our electricity is generated from coal, while 44.3% of our electricity is generated by burning natural gas, according to the Institute for Energy Research. So we can feel happy that we are not directly responsible for the removal of mountaintops in Appalachia, but we are complicit in fracking, every time we turn on the lights or read a blog like this one on our computer.