The Download: What the frack?
Sherry Vargson lights a match, sticks it near the water coming out of her kitchen faucet, and watches as a flame shoots upward. As this multimedia story from Time magazine makes clear, the boom in natural gas exploration in Pennsylvania is having some unusual side-effects.
Pennsylvania is sitting on enormous deposits of natural gas, enough, some say, to last the country 100 years at current consumption rates. That’s great news for the country and states like Massachusetts, which rely heavily on natural gas to fuel electric power plants. If natural gas could displace coal and oil in electricity production, there could also be environmental benefits, since natural gas emits fewer greenhouse gases.
But as Vargson’s faucet illustrates, the boom in Pennsylvania drilling is raising concerns. The drilling method used to capture the natural gas is called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Companies drill down more than a mile beneath the surface into shale rock formations. They then pump a combination of water, sand, and chemicals (some of them toxic) into the well, creating enough pressure to fracture the surrounding rock, releasing the gas.
Drilling has rapidly accelerated across Pennsylvania, often without incident. But the Time story showcases several instances where accidents occurred and land and groundwater resources were contaminated. In Vargson’s case, methane gas seeped into her well, poisoning her water.
In a separate story, the AP also reported that Pennsylvania regulators spend little time reviewing applications for drilling permits and reject almost none. Of the 7,019 applications processed since 2005, only 31 have been rejected.
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