Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Fracking: The Dangers of Procurring Natural Gas

Ever see one of those buses riding down the street with a message stating "I run on CLEAN natural gas"? Has it ever actually made you stop to think about just how clean natural gas is in the extraction process? Well, maybe now you will.

On June 21, Gasland aired on HBO. It is a documentary about the extraction process of natural gas. Josh Fox, the director of the film, begins his jaw dropping film by showing a letter he had acquired from the gas company asking about his willingness to allow the leasing of his family's land in rural Pennsylvania for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. In return, he would receive $100,000.

Fracking is a drilling process that creates fractures, caused by a well bore, that extend into rock or coal formation. Essentially it is like a mini earthquake, Fox explained. The process allows the gas to escape from its natural underground home, creating an easy flow to a production tank. All sort of chemicals, as many as 596, are injected into the Earth in order to make the extraction possible. And.. where are these chemicals disposed of? First, they are dumped into a "holding tank" - merely a hole in the ground that holds "produced water", which is what the gas companies call the water and chemicals that are soaked back up once the gas can escape. Next they are shipped in tankers and dumped who knows where? So, before Josh Fox signed his land over, he decided to do some investigating; first venturing to a nearby town where the natural gas company had already begun to drill.

In 2005, the Bush administration allowed what is known as the Halliburton Loophole, which allows the exemption of natural gas drilling from the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974. In this exemption, companies are not required to disclose any information about the chemicals used in the extraction process.  

What is the Safe Drinking Water Act? It is a federal law which ensures the quality of American drinking water. This law was passed in order to protect drinking water and its sources: rivers, lakes, reservoirs, springs, and ground water wells. It also allows the United States Environmental Protection Agency to set national standards for drinking water to protect against naturally-occurring and man-made contaminations that can be found in drinking water.

This has thus posed a problem for all of those who live near drilling sites. In Fox's documentary, he travels nationwide and hears the same stories told by locals of their experiences with the drilling: water becoming brown or other disturbing colors; foul smelling water; water that ignites; water wells exploding; animals losing hair, weight, and having projectile vomiting; brain lesions; cancer; nerve damage... just to name a few.

However, this is not an isolated issue. It is throughout the country, and it is not solely a problem within the United States. This new extraction process has also spread onto Europe and Asia.

(picture: list of chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process from the EPA. Please click to enlarge.)

By going on Josh Fox's website, Gasland, you too can participate in the fight against hydraulic fracturing, and help with regulations for energy extraction process. There are lists of organizations within your state if you are interested in personally trying to make sure something is done to prevent this from happening near your home. If you are not living within the US, then perhaps you will be able to start your own organization.

Below is the trailer for the film.

All of this coincides with the recent Gulf of Mexico oil disaster. Help protect our waters because its a finite resource!

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