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Fracking Controversy

December 16, 2011 • Volume 21, Issue 44
Are new natural gas drilling methods safe?
By Daniel McGlynn

Introduction

Fracking opponents rally at the New York state capitol in Albany. The widespread and highly controversial technique has been banned in the state while environmental officials develop regulatory guidelines (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
Fracking opponents rally at the New York state capitol in Albany on April 11, 2011. The widespread and highly controversial technique has been banned in the state while environmental officials develop regulatory guidelines. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

Environmental groups and the Obama administration have long promoted natural gas as a domestic energy source that is cleaner and cheaper than oil and offers a way for the United States to break its dependence on foreign energy suppliers. But a drilling method being used to unlock gas deposits deep inside the Earth has led to widespread protests. Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” involves injecting massive amounts of water, chemicals, sand and other material under high pressure into shale formations to break the rock and release the gas trapped inside. Critics say fracking fouls drinking water, pollutes the atmosphere with toxic methane gas and turns rural communities into ugly industrial zones. Energy executives say, however, that the technique is safe and efficient and is creating thousands of jobs. In Congress, lawmakers have introduced bills to tighten environmental regulation of fracking, and some states have banned the procedure while they study its impact.

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