Future of fracking: wastewater so clean you can drink it?
The technology of fracking is moving so fast that the process is becoming cheaper and cleaner. But the industry and the public are talking past each other.
(Page 3 of 3)
Not all farmers have the same view of fracking, however. Some see the wealth it has brought their neighbours, and are anxious to get in on the action.
New York dairy farmer Jennifer Huntington took her town to court after it stopped a well plan on her land. She says that the money brought in by the operation would have paid for a number of updates to her farm.
"We would have used the royalties to update the anaerobic digester that we installed in 1984," she told the AP. "We would have purchased a better oil seed press to more efficiently press soybeans for biodiesel. We would have invested in our farm, our land and our employees."
Dan Fitzsimmons, the chief of the 70,000-member Joint Landowners Coalition of New York, has worked to have the Empire State lift its moratorium on fracking so he and others could profit from it like their neighbors in Pennsylvania.
"I go over the border and see people planting orchards, buying tractors, putting money back in their land," he said. "We'd like to do that, too, but instead we struggle to pay the taxes and to hang onto our farms."
The picture is not always clear even once fracking starts up, however. While some of the environmental impacts of fracking may often get overstated, and are often misunderstood, some incidents have highlighted the potential for problems just in bringing the gas industry into populated areas.
The Philadelphia Inquirer notes that the town of Dimock, Pennsylvania—made famous by a shot of flaming tap water from the slightly histrionic documentary Gasland—remains deeply divided by the presence of the gas industry.
The town was at one point the epicenter of the hydraulic fracturing debate after initial reports suggested that fracking had tainted nearby wells. The story really kicked off when methane that had collected in one well exploded, ignited by the well's electric pump.
Investigation from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency eventually found that the problem was actually with the cement used to seal off the wells, which let gas migrate into the local aquifers. Still, even with extensive efforts to fix the wells and clean the water, many residents remain opposed to further drilling and distrustful of the companies doing the work.
"You sort of have to give them the opportunity to fix your water. It's all about the water; it's not about the money," Bill Ely, a 61-year-old resident of Dimock, told the Inquirer. However, he added, "Once your water is bad, it's hard to get back to drinking it."
Even in areas where the environmental impacts have been less dramatic, there has been notable disagreement. The Star-Gazette notes the example of Montana's Blackfeet Indian Reservation, which leased about two-thirds of its land for oil and gas exploration in 2008.
The reservation has already brought in around $30 million; enough to pay off debts incurred building a casino, upgrade some of the area's infrastructure and offer some regular income for residents, without any dramatic environmental problems.
However, the land has started to fill up with all the trappings of the oil and gas industry, from drilling rigs to water and chemical containers, leading many to question the decision.
So the debate continues. The emotional side needs to look at the science, and the engineers need to understand the emotion, which doesn't get papered over with a study. I would suggest it’s up to industry to make the big first move—whatever that is. But for it to be effective, it needs to be a Big Leap Forward.
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best energy bloggers out there. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here. To add or view a comment on a guest blog, please go to the blogger's own site by clicking on the link in the blog description box above.