Don't 'frack' up natural gas extraction


SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

One of the more important issues President Obama explored in last week's State of the Union was energy independence or, at the very least, a decrease on the dependency of foreign oil through natural gas.

"We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly 100 years, and my administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy," Obama said as he spoke to the joint session of Congress.

"Safely" is the buzzword here.

American natural-gas reserves are important in decreasing the country's dependence on foreign oil, but more transparency is needed in the methods used to get the gas.

In a visit to the University of Iowa last week, Nancy Sutley, the head of the Council on Environmental Quality, described the Obama administration's view on natural gas as a means of decreasing the nation's dependence on foreign oil.

"The U.S. has 2 percent of the world's oil in reserves," Sutley said. "But we have to look at alternative sources that will be here long after the last drop of oil is extracted."

The quick fix seems to be natural gas. And at first glance, it looks like a beautiful option.
First off, we have plenty of it. Just as the president said, the United States has 100 years' worth.

That's 100 years of lower gas prices, which will no doubt lead to more tourism, more car sales, and less of a Middle Eastern chokehold on middle-class Americans. Parents won't be afraid of the expense of travel so they can finally take their kids to Disney World or to buy a new Ford Mustang, leading to a stimulated economy and a happier society.

Then, there's getting at the gas, which creates much-needed jobs in this economy: According to Obama's estimates, there will be more than 600,000 jobs created. The industry currently employs more than 1.2 million people, and it continues to grow each year. Finally, people can get back to work.

Also, when natural gas is used, it burns cleaner than other fossil fuels, which could lead to a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse emissions.

But the issue of getting the gas "safely" presents somewhat of a problem.

To get to the gas, companies use the method of fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, in which they pump various liquids into the earth and fracture the rock pockets in order to get the gas to the surface. Some of these chemicals are more harmful to the natural-water sources than others, including diesel, which is a popular chemical used to crack the pockets.

Not that lighting a match and having your shower blow up isn't fun, just that the environmentally conscious among us would at least like to know whom to bill when we get cancer.

And we can't know, because the EPA cannot regulate the use of these harmful chemicals, which is ridiculous, because the pollutants have the ability to kill off entire ecosystems.

The companies who use fracking are not even obligated to report the chemicals they are using to any government agency, Sutley said. Fracking is a process exempt by the Safe Drinking Water Act of 2005, allowing companies to conceal the use of dangerous chemicals.

Diesel in your water means you might be able to save on filling up at the station, but also means you will die if you drink any natural water in a 100-mile radius. Suddenly entire ecosystems are in play, as fish float on the surfaces of toxic rivers and plants dry up because of chemicals unregulated by any government entity.

Another chemical used in the process of fracking is methane, one of the more popular greenhouse gases to hiss and groan about at the annual Sierra Club Christmas party. The release of methane is a huge part of natural gas's carbon footprint — nearly 20 percent greater than coal. Clean doesn't seem clean when it is washed in acid rain.

The exploration for natural gas will create jobs, there is no doubt about that — it is a necessary evil and perhaps a better evil than coal or offshore drilling. But the EPA's regulatory power needs to be equal to the destructive power of searching for this alternative energy.

In today's issue:

comments powered by Disqus

Privacy Policy (8/15/07) | Terms of Use (4/28/08) | Content Submission Agreement (8/23/07) | Copyright Compliance Policy (8/25/07) | RSS Terms of Use

Copyright © The Daily Iowan, All Rights Reserved.