A few years ago we were hearing that natural gas was in short supply. Now, itâ€™s the next big thing. What changed?
Companies are using some unsavory practices to mine natural gas.
Natural gas is found deep underground in bedrock. It is not contained in neat little puddles; it can be dispersed widely throughout the rock layer. Using a process known as â€˜fracking,â€™ mining companies pump water, sand and a cocktail of noxious chemicals, including benzene and toluene into the ground until they build up enough pressure to fracture the bedrock and release the gas trapped inside.
According to the Environmental Working Group, â€˜frackersâ€™ can pump enough benzene in one well to poison a days worth of drinking water for all of New York State. There are currently thousands of these wells across the country – and many more in the works.
Though fracking for gas occurs well below groundwater levels, when chemicals are pumped underground at high pressure, where they end up is difficult to control. As described in the movie Gasland, in areas where fracking has occurred, enough chemicals have seeped into some water supplies to cause tap water to light on fire. People in affected areas are buying bottled water, but it takes a lot of Evian to maintain a herd of cows. The movie showed gaunt looking animals losing their fur.
Explosions, fires and blowouts happen as well. In June, an explosion at a drill site in Pennsylvania spewed 35,000 gallons of fracking fluids onto the ground and into a nearby stream. It took 16 hours to stop the flow.
The Environmental Working Group reports there is very little oversight of the practice. Under federal law, companies arenâ€™t even required to reveal the chemicals they are pumping underground. The EPA exempted fracking from the appropriate provisions of the Safe Water Act. The only restriction the EPA has issued is that frackers cannot use diesel oil. In a loophole big enough to drive a truck through, however they can use other compounds which have the same toxic chemicals as diesel.
The comic Pearls Before Swine closed a cartoon recently with the line â€œWe are ALL gulf residents.â€
So far, Lansingites mostly hear of environmental disasters in other places, but letâ€™s remember that if we donâ€™t oppose such reckless practices, then the next area to be laid waste could be ours.
How About We Reduce Our Use
Efficiency is one positive way out of our energy mess. Strong efficiency initiatives could save between 2 and 40% of our consumption a year. Every penny saved is a penny kept in the local economy; and in our current economic fix, the fewer dollars we use for trainloads of coal or to pollute somebody elseâ€™s fishing stream, the better.
Efficiency programs are already in place around the state. Programs like http://www.michigansaves.org/ and Wellhome evaluate homes and businesses and loan money to replace energy-hogging appliances. Wellhomeâ€™s website boasts they can reduce energy use up to 40%. When utilities participate in such programs and allow customers to pay for upgrades on their monthly utility bills, then more of us can participate. In some cases, utility bills even go down. Not to mention recipients have safer, cleaner houses and businesses.
Our future lies in finding alternatives to fossil fuels. The sooner we do, the sooner we can breathe easier – in all senses of the word.
Fractured Logic: The Peril in â€œFrackingâ€ Chemicals, Environmental Working Group, January 2010.
EPA Considers Risks of Gas Extraction, Tom Zeller, Jr., New York Times, July 23, 2010.
Now Theyâ€™re Cooking With Gas, Lawrence Consentino, Lansing City Pulse, July 21, 2010.