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Opinion | Cut the riff frack this Earth Day, hydraulic fracturing hits home

By josh Schultz, Sophomore, Political Science & Environmental Science
On April 21, 2014

By now, most of us are familiar with the term "fracking," but for those unfamiliar, it is a nickname for a process called hydraulic fracturing. This process is used to extract natural gas from deep in the ground. There is a lot of natural gas contained in the rock in the United States and once this process was discovered and utilized, it created a sort of energy boom in our country.

Hydraulic fracturing is a process by which a giant pipe is inserted deep into the ground. After it gets to the shale rock in the ground, the pipe then begins to drill sideways along the shale formations. When drilling sideways, to get the gas, the shale has to be fractured. This is commonly done by pumping out millions of gallons of water mixed with numerous chemicals.

Halliburton is one of the largest oil companies and was one of the first companies to begin large-scale fracking operations. Thanks to former Halliburton CEO, Dick Cheney, the fracking process was exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act in something that is now commonly referred to as the "Halliburton Loophole." Because of this exemption, oil and gas companies do not have to disclose what chemicals they're mixing with the water during the drilling process.

That way, these companies can deny fault when it comes to health issues and water contamination.

However, even with the loophole, there have been several environmental consequences exposed about this process. As environmentally-conscious an idea like pumping hundreds of poisons into the ground sounds, it turns out that it may not be the best idea.

There was recently a story published from the Fayetteville Shale area in Arkansas highlighting two personal stories surrounding fracking. One woman denied the gas companies the right to frack on her land, but since the gas company owned the mineral rights to her property, they built wells and fracked anyway. She found dead birds in the leaked frack fluid on her land and whenever she was near the drilling, she got a runny nose and her eyes watered.

Another woman used her property as a wildlife sanctuary and also raised show cats. After wells showed up within a half a mile of her property, she began noticing health problems with her animals. Many had fertility and skin problems and one cat even died due to exposure to butoxyethanol, which can be found in frack fluids.

These frack fluids have leaked into ground water supplies on many occasions allowing some people to light their own household water on fire. During the fracking process, the drills also leak methane, a greenhouse gas that traps more heat than carbon dioxide. With water contamination, methane emissions and the massive amounts of water the process requires as well as the truck traffic around the site - one well can require as many as 1400 truck trips - it's plainly obvious that hydraulic fracturing is a stain on our environment.

Need some closer-to-home stories? Recently, a debate sprung up about allowing fracking wastewater to be transported along the Ohio River. Our beautiful brown river is not necessarily the perfect picture of cleanliness, but with the possibility of leakage and spills - this could be disastrous for Ohio.

There have also been situations in Eastern Ohio where fracking has ruined the lifestyles of the Amish with noise and traffic accidents, causing them to move out of the state. There was also the relatively well-known instance in Youngstown, Ohio where fracking was confirmed to have been the cause of several earthquakes.

Our environment affects every facet of our lives and without a healthy planet, things like the economy, foreign policy, etc. don't really matter. Oil and gas companies have placed a greater value on short-term economic gains over long-term environmental health.

President Obama even said that the United States has enough natural gas to last us nearly 100 years. That means that people being born now could live to see the end of this natural gas boom. Is that short-term gas abundance really worth the harm it's causing?

Today is Earth Day and there is no better time than now to consider our effect on our world. Instead of funneling money into processes like fracking or a project like the Keystone XL pipeline, we need to prioritize cleaner energies.

Instead of building millions more wells for hydraulic fracturing, we should be spending money on research and development to make clean energies like wind and photovoltaic more efficient and cheaper, making them a realistic possibility for our future.

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