Pace Perspectives: Hydrofracking

Environmental Science student Diane Saraiva ’12 offers a student perspective on hydrofracking, the damage it causes, and the possibility of greener alternatives.

By Diane Saraiva ’12

It seems that the latest domestic craze in energy is hydraulic fracturing. The gas industry can certainly make this energy option seem like a perfect fix and solution to several aspects of our energy crisis. Natural gas is promoted as an alternative to coal and oil, and can be extracted domestically, eventually reducing the United States’ dependence on foreign oil. With full exploitation of this energy source, a huge industry would be developed, one that could rival the enormity of that of coal and oil. This would create countless and much needed jobs. However, there has been a great debate over whether these benefits outweigh the dangers of the processes of hydraulic fracturing.

The production, transport, and actual burning of natural gas can create huge water, air, and health problems. It has been estimated that the operation of a single well can use between 2,370,000 and 7,700,000 gallons of water. This is especially alarming because water scarcity has the potential to become an even bigger issue than energy consumption in the coming years.

Drinking water in areas of gas production is also severely at risk of being polluted by hydraulic fracturing processes.  It has been estimated that as much as 30% of fracturing fluids remain underground, allowing for upward leeching into the groundwater from which people are obtaining drinking water. Dangerous chemicals often make up a small percentage of the fracturing fluids. However, many of these chemicals have been classified as toxic and carcinogenic.

Gas industries are benefiting greatly from the relaxed government regulation and exemptions from laws that exist to protect our drinking water supplies and the integrity of water quality. Any real attempts that have been made by lawmakers to increase regulation of natural gas production processes have stirred up an uproar with the gas company’s powerful defenders. The gas industry’s immense influence in Washington is due to the consolidation of the gas industry with some of the largest oil companies.

Horror stories keep emerging from all around the country as natural gas drilling is becoming more and more common. There are countless issues related to hydraulic fracturing, including the hazards to the surrounding land and water sources where wastes are dumped, inadequate treatments to wastewater and sludge, methane pollution to the degree that allows people to set their faucets on fire, and direct effects of drilling, like noise and foul smells, communities are exposed to. Many homeowners that lease their properties to gas companies are financially struggling and are lured in because of the prospect of financial compensation. Often, what homeowners are left with are polluted wells, health issues, and an overall disrupted and polluted community. We have to consider all the potential effects the application of this technology could cause. Truth is that the long term effects of hydraulic fracturing are not known from experiences from the past few years. The methods of exploration of hydraulic fracturing can be considered nothing short of irresponsible and must be mended if natural gas production is to become as ‘clean’ as it is promoted to be.

Want to know more about fracking? Join members of the Pace Community on April 9 for a multi-campus discussion on the controversies surrounding hydrofracking in New York. Please RSVP online at