The Fracking Controversy

Nov 2, 2012
Michael Fitzgerald

E - The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: I have heard that fracking is becoming a major environmental issue in the U.S. Which parts of the country are already hosting fracking operations? Are there efforts underway to stop the practice in specific states or across the country?                              

The controversial mining method known as hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking", has led to a boom in production of cheap natural gas by getting at what was previously inaccessible pockets of gas contained in shale. Energy companies see it as way to reduce America’s dependence on oil and lower our energy bills, but concerns over environmental safety have others saying we need to slow down and study the issue. We cover all sides of fracking and its potential impacts here in New England. 


There's a boom in natural gas production in the United States, a boom so big the market is having trouble absorbing it all.

The unusually warm weather this winter is one reason for the excess, since it reduced the need for people to burn gas to heat their homes. A bigger reason, however, is the huge increase in gas production made possible by new methods of coaxing gas out of shale rock formations.

The U.S. Geological Survey will soon confirm that the oil and gas industry is creating earthquakes, and new data from the Midwest finds that these man-made quakes are happening more often than originally thought.

Earthquakes happen when faults in the Earth slip and slide against each other. There's continuous stress on innumerable faults on our continent, but seismologists like Bill Ellsworth, from the U.S. Geological Survey, started seeing something odd about 12 years ago.

Photo by Gilderic, courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Where are all these fracking earthquakes coming from? The correlation between natural gas and shifting plates.  Also, Agent Twitter and Double-O-Social Media: predicting riots, epidemics and other social phenomena through aggregate online data. Plus, World of Adcraft: the growing gimmicks of big-budget video game advertisements.  And an interview with Chuck Palahniuk, author of Fight Club and Choke.  His latest novel is Damned.

Photo by Martin Luff, courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons
(Photo by <a href="" target="_blank">martinluff</a> via Flickr Creative Commons)

The magnitude 5.8 earthquake that rattled the east coast back in August triggered speculation about whether the controversial gas drilling technique called fracking may have been responsible. Fracking involves drilling thousands of feet into the shale deep below the earth’s surface, then fracturing the earth by pumping millions of gallons of sand, water, and chemicals into the shale to release natural gas. So far, contamination of groundwater supplies has been the focus of those opposing big energy’s push to expand fracking.

(Photo by <a href="" target="_blank">Dave Schumaker</a> via Flickr Creative Commons)

The growing evidence for a connection between the controversial drilling technique called"fracking" and earthquakes. A shocking tactic used by a Connecticut high school to clear the hallways for a drug search. And a new documentary follows a group of friends on their journey from impulsive teenagers to soldiers in Afghanistan, and then back again.