By Megan Blauvelt
Extracting shale gas is either the future for America’s energy needs or dangerous, panelists argued during a contentious forum on hydraulic fracturing on Feb. 21.
Fracking has been a controversial topic among environmentalists and energy companies in recent years. Each side of the debate had two representatives on stage at the Bart Luedeke Center Theater last week.
The speakers squared off on the controversial topic of “fracking,” a procedure that involves injecting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals at high pressures into the earth in order to find trapped natural gas.
To read about some effects of fracking see “Fracking hits home for Pa. families” on page 3.
“President Barack Obama, in his State of the Union Address just two weeks ago, suggested that fracking is one way to go,” James Benton, executive director of the New Jersey Petroleum Council said. “Shale gas is the future. It has changed the world for the better, [made it] cleaner and more affordable.”
Maya van Rossum, an environmental attorney and strategist for the Delaware Riverkeeper organization, countered Benton’s statement.
“Politicians’ support doesn’t give me comfort,” van Rossum said. “They have supported numerous ideas in the past, such as DDT [pesticide] and smoking, that have actually ended with disaster.”
Currently, fracking is used to mine the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania.
Kate Millsaps Conservation Program Coordinator for the Sierra Club’s New Jersey Chapter and van Rossum opposed fracking, while Benton and Elvin Montero, president of the Chemistry Council of New Jersey, supported the practice.
The speakers agreed that Rider students and staff members need to be educated about fracking as a whole and how it affects the community.
The Delaware Riverkeeper leader said natural gas will be gone in 21 years, and it will take more than $700 billion to find another source of energy.
According to Montero, people should know that fracking has allowed industry to return to the U.S.
“We use natural gas not only to power our plants but to make products with them as well.”
With the current rate of fracking, the U.S. is predicted to be a leading producer of natural gas by the next decade, he said.
Millsaps expressed a different point of view.
“We need to invest in energy efficiency, which includes not fracking,” she said. “We support the conventional use of natural gas. Shale gas, however, is a different ballfield. While it is good that we have reduced the use of coal energy, there are still cleaner ways, such as solar and wind energy.”
New Jersey and Pennsylvania both produce natural gas; however, the panel focused on the Marcellus Shale, which covers Pennsylvania, New York and Ohio.
According to Benton, natural gas has been shown to produce cleaner energy than coal. The EPA Toxics Release Inventory Report from January 2013 states that New Jersey’s toxic fumes have been reduced 85% compared to 1988’s records.
“And it continues to decrease 12% from last year,” Benton said.
But those numbers are from inside the box. Van Rossum and Millsaps urged a broader look on how fracking can accelerate climate change.
While natural gas may burn cleaner over its life cycle, it releases more greenhouse gases than burning coal, Millsaps said.
“An abundance of methane is released from the ground during fracking,” she said. “Research has shown many health hazards, including higher risk of cancer, skin and eye damage and damage to the respiratory system.”
For a single fracking area, truck traffic is heavy, and three to five acres of land are demolished just to put in the well needed to reach the gas, the panelists said.
“Five million gallons of water will be gulped up at a nearby lake or river,” van Rossum said. “A waste pit will hold the toxic chemicals, and everything that enters the ground will resurface.”
Montero argued that only a small percentage of chemicals are present in the mixture: 0.49%. Also only a small percentage of chemicals, but the effects are large according to Millsaps.
“At most, 20% of fracking fluid chemicals are used,” Millsaps acknowledged. “But we’re talking about 9 million gallons of water being injected into a single well, of Pennsylvania’s 3,000 wells. That adds up to tons of chemicals per well.”
However, from Benton’s point of view we need to be conscientious of energy storage.
“We need to figure out how to store energy and use it the best way possible,” he said.
van Rossum believes there must be another solution for energy sources.
“Fracking is unnecessary for the future,” said van Rossum. “We need to invest in alternative sources of energy that protect water, air and community.”