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What is Fracking?

…and why should you care?

People are talking about Fracking.

The country’s largest fracking site, a 350 million-year-old formation called the Marcellus Shale, spans the states of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Maryland.

So what is fracking? And why should you care?

Hydraulic fracturing has been around for decades. Oklahoma-based Natural Gas  producer Chesapeake Energy explains that “Hydraulic fracturing is a proven technological advancement which allows producers to safely recover natural gas and oil from deep shale formations.”

On the other hand, The Environmental Working Group (EWG) explains that now, natural gas producers are deploying a new gas drilling method called high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing to release gas locked in previously untapped shale formations.

Current fracking techniques use an accelerated process different from that of the past.

The New York Times reports that this “carries significant environmental risks. It involves injecting huge amounts of water, mixed with sand and chemicals, at high pressures to break up rock formations and release the gas…With hydrofracking, a well can produce over a million gallons of waste water that is often laced with highly corrosive salts, carcinogens like benzene and radioactive elements like radium, all of which can occur naturally thousands of feet underground.” The most commonly used chemicals include carcinogens such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene and other toxins.

In 2011, according to a report by the Department of Energy's outside advisory panel on natural gas, shale gas reached 29 percent of total dry gas production in the lower 48 states, which is up from 6 percent in 2006.

Drillers claim fracking does not pollute ground water and underground water supplies. However, according to EWG, “growing numbers of Americans, many in rural communities, report that wells and other water sources have become unusable since fracking operations started up nearby.”

In addition to the threat to water through contamination and the use of toxic chemicals, and the risk of air pollution, fracking is dangerous in other ways as well. 

There have been explosions–such as the one in Ohio in 2007. There has been water contamination–in 2008 in Pennsylvania it was found that drilling waste water contaminated the Monongahela River.

There have been chemical spills–in 2009 Pennsylvania authorities fined Cabot Oil & Gas $56,650 for three spills of hydraulic fracturing fluid near the town of Dimock.

Truck traffic is increased–EWG notes that “drilling can require 1,300 truck trips per well, often in areas where roads do not exist or are not built to handle heavy trucks. Trucks cause significant air and noise pollution and can spill their loads, endangering water supplies.”

In January 2012, Christopher Portier, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Environmental Health and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, argued that additional studies needed to be carried out to determine whether waste water from the fracking wells can harm people or animals and vegetables they eat. That same month a group of U.S. doctors “called for a moratorium on fracking in populated areas until such studies had been done” according to a Bloomberg article.

Marylanders should take note: This is happening in our state and there are no plans to let up. It's dangerous and bad for all of our health.

Fracking is not a partisan issue. President Obama voiced his support for the practice of fracking during his State of the Union address in January 2012.  He, and all of the Republican nominees for President, take campaign contributions from the gas and oil industry. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, however, Republican candidates receive approximately four times as much money. 

All candidates support hydraulic fracturing. However, a report by the Associated Press earlier this month notes that the majority of US citizens do not support hydraulic fracturing, regardless of party.

Matt M March 15, 2012 at 08:31 PM
There are lots of dangerous things in the world. Marylanders should take note: Big Macs are being sold in our state and there are no plans to let up. It's dangerous and bad for all of our health. Although I guess Ms. Lemmonds might say that Big Macs don't affect all of our health (neither does fracking in Maryland). Or that you can choose to eat a Big Mac or not, but similar to fracking what about people we love who choose to eat Big Macs in unhealthy ways? Even if we don't care about Big Macs today...maybe we should.
Daniel March 16, 2012 at 01:46 PM
Natural gas, used mostly for electricity and home heating, is dirt cheap at the moment- there was a rush to drill for the stuff over the last few years, and now there are far too many wells going, and the price has collapsed. In ten years, when all those wells are exhausted and have to be re-fractured to produce anymore, it might be time to start drilling in Maryland. For now, we should sit back and learn from Pennsylvania's experience, so when the time comes, we'll do it right (or not at all). In the mean time, offshore wind offers electricity with lower environmental costs.
Cindy Stacy March 16, 2012 at 02:11 PM
Maryland Public Television will air a documentary, Mar. 21, reporting, among other things, how drilling in the Marcellus Shale in western MD would impact the region -- good and bad. My husband and I own 370 acres of Christmas trees and timber, which sits atop gas reserves, so MTV filmed our comments, Stay tuned. . .
Ruth A March 22, 2012 at 05:36 PM
The Climate Change Initiative of Howard County has a great resources page on Fracking at www.hococlimatechange.org/advocacy/fracking . We are very concerned about the possibility of Fracking in Maryland and are advocating for several bills in the State Legislature that will ensure Maryland residents and landowners are protected. The most important bill is HB 1204 which just passed in the Maryland House of Delegates. (It is sponsored by Del. Heather Mizeur's and others, including 2 Howard County Delegates Liz Bobo and Frank Turner), and sets a fee on land leased for fracking to create a fund for a safe drilling study. The companion bill in the state Senate, SB 798, is stuck in Sen. Carter Conway's committee. A similar bill never made it out of her committee last year. We believe that if we can get this bill out of Carter Conway's committee, the bill has a good chance of passing in the full Senate. Please send her an email here: www.chesapeakeclimate.org/take-action/maryland/send-an-email-in-support-of-strong-fracking-regulation
Nick P September 07, 2012 at 04:42 AM
To see the effects of fracking watch the documentary "gasland" it's on Netflix.

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