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Natural gas has been experiencing a recent boost in the public eye as of late, taking center stage on topics such as the $400 billion China-Russia agreement and Japan’s successful extraction of the energy resource off its costal shores. In many of the high-yielding oil and gas states, such as California, there has been a lot of conflict between environmental groups, gas industry lobbying groups, and local governments over the dangers of fracking. The worry over fracking has been strong enough to warrant the testing of possible links between contaminated ground water and birth defects. However, aside from fracking’s questionable methodology, the industry’s lobbyers maintain its byline: “clean energy.”
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is the practice whereby high-pressure fluid is injected into the ground in order to fracture the rock and release natural gas. Some of the red flags that have been raised by environmental groups pertain to the mystery “fluid” that is used to fracture the rock. The curiosity into the fluid components was brought about after reports surfaced that only 30 to 50 percent of the fluid was recovered following the fracking process. After dozens of cases of contaminated drinking water surfaced, it was revealed that the fracking fluid was comprised of chemicals such as methanol, formaldehyde, radium, hydrochloric acid, lead, uranium, and mercury.
News of the deadly cocktail drove environmental groups to demand stricter guidelines and regulations for fracking because it was known that there would be no stopping the industry from fracking in the first place. According to reports, in last year alone the booming industry opened up more than one million jobs and generated more than $200 billion for the economy. America’s Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA) also sold a convincing narrative that compared natural gas with its oil competitor. On its website, ANGA claims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 50 percent, and virtually eliminate mercury pollution and sulfur dioxide emissions entirely.
The two sides put forth conflicting information that makes it hard for the public not directly affected by contaminants to form a solid opinion about the issue. The environmentalists point to contaminated water, wasted water, poor regulation, and excessive gas flares, whereas the natural gas lobbyists respond by deflecting the conversation to oil. Natural gas is much cleaner than oil, but it is unclean nonetheless.
There have been over 1,000 cases of water contamination in the U.S. and what has made environmentalists even more worried is the fact that the fracking practice has been taken out to sea. Fracking off the coast of California has been a practice for decades, however, what has environmentalists concerned now is twofold: as of 2013, the Environmental Protections Agency (EPA) exempt the fracking industry from the Clean Water Act, and to this day, few if any studies have been conducted that examine the affects of fracking fluid on marine life.
Natural gas may be a cleaner energy than oil, however, the use of “cleaner” in this sense remains ambiguous. The trade-offs need to be more adequately assessed based on the conflicting information seeping from the ANGA. Environmentalists remain worried, however the natural gas industry continues to flourish at the hands of fracking.
Opinion by Courtney Anderson