Fracking for Natural Gas, Is It Energy Salvation or a Polluting Mirage?

Is natural gas the answer to the looming world energy crisis?

Nuclear energy had become the darling alternative of environmentalist to coal and oil based energy until Fukushima.

Turmoil in the Middle East and booming economies of China and India have pushed the price of a barrel of oil to its highest point in two and a half years.

Enter natural gas. Recent discoveries of natural gas under New York and Pennsylvania have some energy experts describing the United States as the Saudi Arabia of natural gas.
In the April 11, 2011 issue of Time Magazine , an article called the Gas Dilemma written by Bryan Walsh explores the question of whether natural gas could be the solution to the United States and perhaps the world’s energy crisis. In this article, Mr. Walsh reports that estimates of the supply of natural gas in the Marcellus fields under Pennsylvania and New York hold the energy equivalent of 86 billion barrels of oil.

But as with oil, coal and nuclear energy, there is an environmental downside. To extract this mother load of gas, a vertical well must be driven several thousand feet below the earth’s surface. When the well reaches the shale rock layer where the gas is embedded, it bends and burrows horizontally for as much as a mile. Explosions are set off in the horizontal pipe that pierce the concrete well and open up micro fractures in the shale. Millions of gallons of highly pressurized water with sand and “fracking” chemicals are pumped down the well to widening the shale fractures. Natural pressure then forces the liquids bask up the will and gas rushes from the fractures into the pipe.

Many environmentalist worry that this flow- back of water with its “fracking” chemicals could contaminate nearby groundwater. Adding their concerns is that when the fracking fluid mixes with the shale rock, it may also become contaminated with highly radioactive materials that are known to exist in the Marcellus shale rock.
Mr. Walsh contends that little if any federal regulation exists for the hydraulic fracturing process, leaving states to do the regulating.

With the enormous amount of money currently being paid to landowners for gas leases, an easy comparison can be made to the poor regulation of offshore oil drilling that led to the Deepwater Horizon disaster on April 20. 2010.

So, is natural gas really the answer to the world’s energy dilemma?

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Secotan: An Alternative Energy Novel
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Henry Gorham Author of Secotan Copyright © 2009 Henry Gorham www.henrygorham.com