A map of the Roan Plateau in Western Colorado detailing some of the proposed natural gas drilling in the area.
A look at the state of the latest science on the impacts of natural gas drilling, from the nonprofit, independent newsroom of ProPublica – reprinted by permission.
by Abrahm Lustgarten, ProPublica – December 31, 2009
It takes brute force to wrest natural gas from the earth. Millions of gallons of chemical-laden water mixed with sand — under enough pressure to peel paint from a car — are pumped into the ground, pulverizing a layer of rock that holds billions of small bubbles of gas.
The chemicals transform the fluid into a frictionless mass that works its way deep into the earth, prying open tiny cracks that can extend thousands of feet. The particles of sand or silicon wedge inside those cracks, holding the earth open just enough to allow the gas to slip by.
Gas drilling is often portrayed as the ultimate win-win in an era of hard choices: a new, 100-year supply of cleaner-burning fuel, a risk-free solution to the nation’s dependence on foreign energy. In the next 10 years, the United States will use the fracturing technology to drill hundreds of thousands of new wells astride cities, rivers and watersheds. Cash-strapped state governments are pining for the revenue and the much-needed jobs that drilling is expected to bring to poor, rural areas.
Drilling companies assert that the destructive forces unleashed by the fracturing process, including the sometimes toxic chemicals that keep the liquid flowing, remain safely sealed as much as a mile or more beneath the earth, far below drinking water sources and the rest of the natural environment.
More than a year of investigation by ProPublica , however, shows that the issues are far less settled than the industry contends, and that hidden environmental costs could cut deeply into the anticipated benefits. (more…)
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