There are concerns that hydrofracturing, the controversial drilling technique that is used on the majority of new natural gas wells, may pollute drinking water, according to a recent story by National Public Radio (NPR).
Also known as "fracking," hydrofracturing is used to extract natural gas from hard-to-reach deposits, such as a mile underground in dense shale. Drillers pump truckloads of water mixed with sand and chemicals into the rock. Under intense pressure, that creates tiny fractures that allow gas trapped there to escape.
In Pennsylvania the number of natural gas wells drilled into the Marcellus Shale has increased from 34 in 2007 to 1,446 last year. But drive around the region and you'll see that not everyone shares the industry's appreciation of fracking, according to the NPR report. There are lawn signs opposing gas drilling, and in Sullivan County, N.Y., a handmade sign reads, "Thou shalt not frack with our water. Amen."
NPR reports that many fracking opponents were inspired by the movie Gasland. In one compelling scene, Colorado resident Mike Markham shows how he can light his tap water on fire. Throughout the movie, filmmaker Josh Fox gives fracking special attention -- calling into question how safe it is and whether it's adequately regulated.
The natural gas industry worries that the focus on fracking could prompt policymakers to restrict the practice and bring a halt to the gas booms under way, according to NPR. That's already happening around the country in places such as Buffalo, N.Y., Pittsburgh and most recently Morgantown, W.Va. New York is deciding on new rules to govern fracking there.
It's not just the industry concerned about the focus on fracking, according to NPR. Some environmentalists say it may be taking attention away from the other problems that go along with drilling, like air pollution and toxic spills. "I'm hoping that it's really just a starting point -- a jumping-off point -- to look at all these other issues," says Amy Mall, senior policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council.
And Mall hopes the focus on fracking will lead to more research about how natural gas development affects people. "There's very little science about any of these impacts -- not just the fracking, but the air quality, the waste-management issues," Mall says. "But it does seem the immediate priority of the agencies is to focus on fracking."
To read the NPR story on fracking, click here.