Prior to each election cycle, one topic is sure to be raised in the debate for office seekers in every corner of the nation where energy exploration takes place. Where do you stand on fracking? Properly known as hydraulic fracturing, fracking is the liberal boogieman which is, according to environmental activists, responsible for everything from the rampant destruction of the wilderness to exploding sinks.
So popular is this allegedly common knowledge that The Daily Show’s Asif Mandvi did a “special report” on the subject this year. He highlighted the hazards posed to citizens residing near natural gas drilling rigs and lampooned industry experts who had the audacity to question the scientific accuracy of esteemed liberal studies on the subject such as the Matt Damon film, Promised Land.
As with most such displays of eco-warrior activism, a few pesky but pertinent details were left out of the Comedy Central analysis. One of the chief accusations which was somewhat casually tossed into the report dealt with the commonly held belief on the Left that fluids used in the hydraulic fracturing process – along with the sought after natural gas itself – somehow migrate to the surface and contaminate the drinking water of those living nearby. But do they?
No less of a Right Wing source than CBS News reported just last year that extensive studies in Pennsylvania had failed to provide proof of this allegation. As part of an ongoing test, the drilling company agreed to inject unique chemical markers into their fracking fluid and allow the state Department of Energy to conduct regular tests of wells and ground water over a period of years to see if the markers were making their way to the surface. Not surprisingly, none were detected.
The fracking fluid is more than 98% water and sand, with the small remaining volume being a combination of chemicals used to free up the natural gas more easily. They are typically injected at depths greater than 8,000 feet under the ground, and to make it to the surface they would need to travel upwards in defiance of gravity, passing through several different geologic layers before reaching the aquifer above. To date, studies have not indicated that this is happening.
But what of the Pennsylvania man who was able to set his tap water on fire in the fictional movie, Gasland? Surely that must mean something!
It does. And to understand precisely what it signifies, we should take a brief detour to another location in the Keystone State. The town of Centralia, or at least what remains of it, lies in the same geographic belt as the natural gas mining sites mentioned above. If you go to Centralia you’ll find a ghost town, all but abandoned by man. In various spots, steam and noxious gases rise from the ground with no obvious cause and the air is considered unfit for human habitation.