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A Seemingly Ridiculous Dichotomy

June 28, 2011

There has been a lot of discussion lately about the process of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking”. This is a process of extracting natural gas that is trapped in shale and bedrock. Fracking is a highly controversial method of harvesting the gas because, as shown in the photo on the left, a hole is drilled from the surface, through the water table (where a lot of people get their drinking water), into the rock below. Then poisonous chemicals are mixed with ungodly amounts of water and injected into the rock under high pressure. The intention is to fracture the rock and release the gas that resides in pockets within the rock layer. The resistance to fracking comes from how it contaminates the water table and how the used chemicals are discarded when the process is complete. There have been instances of methane bubbling up into the water table and eventually coming out the water faucets in peoples’ homes. Some homeowners have demonstrated this by setting their tap water on fire with a cigarette lighter. Of course the drilling companies don’t care about all that and continue to frack with total disregard to the weak regulations meant to control the process.

Fracking seems like a very risky way to extract a fairly small amount of gas. Have you noticed that every time you see an oil rig (like the one in the photo on the right) or a petroleum processing facility, there is a large flame being emitted from it into the sky? This is natural gas being burned off as an unwanted by-product because they are after oil – not natural gas. Maybe I’m missing something, but it seems like all that “unwanted” gas could be captured and sent to market, reducing the need to frack to a minimum… or eliminating it completely. But, then, what do I know? We depend on these gas and oil companies to use good common sense, but maybe we shouldn’t.

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