What’s the fracking problem?

The EPA has convened a meeting to discuss potential issues in hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”). The NYT Green blog has posted that there’s a huge turnout, indicative of just how important an economic and environmental issue this method is. Gotta love the clever use of language here: 

A ballroom set up for some 800 stakeholders at the Hilton Garden Inn in Canonsburg, Penn., about 30 miles south of Pittsburgh, quickly overflowed, and a blooming garden of colorful signs and homemade placards — from “No Fracking” on one end of the spectrum, to “Fracking is our Future” on the other — were already hinting at the fault lines in this debate even before the 6 p.m. meeting got under way. 

Fracking involves essentially injecting compounds into the crust under high pressure in order to fracture it and release natural gas. The method was pioneered only a few years ago and has led to an explosion of natural gas reserves which were previously thought to be unreachable. There are several prominent shale gas deposits right here in America, which means greater energy security as well as carbon reduction. If you click the link above, you’ll notice that perhaps the largest is the Marcellus Shale in the Northeast, which is why this meeting is in Pennsylvania. It is a massive deposit conveniently located under one of the most densely populated regions in the nation. 

It’s worth noting that natural gas has significantly less carbon than coal, and could be very important to our energy future now that it has been found in abundance. 

 But there’s concerns that fracking can be harmful for drinking water. It’s worth taking a look at, but environmentalists are overall not as supportive for this low-carbon alternative to coal use as they should be. They so often tend to be utopian and uncompromising about these things rather than conducting a rational cost-benefit analysis. Overcoming the environmental groups by instituting some reasonable regulation on fracking, and unseating the heavily embedded coal lobby in Washington would go a long way to making a real difference in energy progress. 

In the United States, for example, there is a substantial amount of low-hanging fruit available by displacing inefficient power generation with more efficient, lower CO2 emitting gas plants. “That kind of substitution alone,” Moniz said, “reduces those carbon emissions by a factor of three

Or we could just build more windmills.

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