Two weeks ago the EPA announced plans to study the impact that hydraulic fracturing may have on water quality and public health. Hydraulic fracturing is a drilling process used to maximize the production of oil and natural gas reserves. Basically it takes water (mixed with high-viscosity fluid additives) and injects it under high pressure into underground rock fractures. The water pressure breaks up the rock and expands the fracture causing the natural gas or oil to move freely to the surface.
Natural gas is going to play a key role in the transition towards alternative energies. To put it simply, a molecule of gas has four hydrogen atoms and only one carbon, whereas oil and coal are more dependent on heavier carbon atoms for their energy content. More carbon= more pollution. The quickest way to reduce our Co2 emissions while maintaining our energy production is to retire coal-fired plants and replace them with facilities operating on natural gas.
Recent studies have shown that black shale reservoirs (these contain natural gas) run up and down the east coast. Unfortunately, there are serious environmental impacts linked to this extraction method. The most serious is the possibility of water contamination. At present most gas companies refuse to disclose the concentration and volume of their fracking fluids, but one well respected nonprofit has reported that the fluid may contain contain large amounts of toxic substances and carcinogens. Unfortunately, gas companies successfully lobbied to exempt themselves from the Safe Drinking Water Act, which would have required a full disclosure. In an article that appeared in the N&O last Sunday, Molly Diggin's the Sierra Club State Director, said the process was "fraught with potential risk... The bar to doing it in an environmentally safe way is pretty high."
This is a local issue, the natural gas deposits that are the most viable, are buried a mile underneath parts of Lee, Chatham, Durham, Wake and Orange counties. For now, state laws prohibit hydraulic fracturing.This gives us the opportunity to strengthen regulations and protect our natural resources in the event that drilling operations develop in the future.