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Fracking: Controversy hot over flammable water

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Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, happens when pressured water mixed with sand and chemicals is pumped into well holes to crack open fissures and boost the productivity of oil and gas wells. (Source: MGN photos) Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, happens when pressured water mixed with sand and chemicals is pumped into well holes to crack open fissures and boost the productivity of oil and gas wells. (Source: MGN photos)

(RNN) - The controversy remains hot over hydraulic fracturing. While the process has made fortunes, it allegedly ruined groundwater supplies in some sites where it is employed.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, happens when pressured water mixed with sand and chemicals is pumped into well holes to crack open fissures and boost the productivity of oil and gas wells.

The tactic has caused an oil and gas boom in areas like North Dakota and Pennsylvania with shale formations.

Overall, U.S. shale gas production has boomed to 12 times what it was earlier in the decade, reaching 5 trillion cubic feet per year in 2010, 23 percent of the total dry gas production in the U.S., the Energy Department stated.

However, the water contamination caused as a side-effect of the practice has made some people's residences unlivable.

Wastewater from fracking may contain high levels of "fracturing fluid additives, metals and naturally occurring radioactive materials," the EPA stated, which may contaminate drinking and surface waters and cause air pollution.

Across the nation, fracking has been blamed for flammable tap water polluted with methane gas. A Weld County, CO, family was relocated in 2009, after their tap water started catching fire. A family in Ohio reported the same thing in 2013. There are videos of people setting their water on fire on Youtube, as well.

Locals in the Pavillion, WY, area complained for more than seven years that their water began to smell like chemicals since fracking occurred there, according to a June Associated Press story.

The Environmental Protection Agency, in a 2011 draft report, blamed fracking for polluted water in the Pavillion area, stating: "Sample results indicate that the presence of petroleum hydrocarbons and other chemical compounds in groundwater represents a drinking water concern." Petroleum hydrocarbons found in the water include benzene and methane.

EPA turned over the investigation to the state of Wyoming in June.

According to the EPA, the Energy Policy Act of 2005, passed during the administration of George W. Bush, largely excluded hydraulic fracturing from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act's Underground Injection Control program.

As part of a settlement involving the fracking-involved destruction of a family's 10-acre Pennsylvania farm, Range Resources Group placed a gag order on the Hallowich family, including the two minor children, preventing them from discussing fracking. The order was recently unsealed, according to the Guardian, who said the property was near "four gas wells, gas compressor stations, and a waste-water pond, which the Hallowich family said contaminated their water supply and caused burning eyes, sore throats and headaches."

Concerns over the safety of fracking operations caused the state of New York to impose a moratorium so that the process could be assessed, and in Colorado, Boulder County has a fracking moratorium in place.

But in some states, it's full speed ahead. This year, production in Pennsylvania and West Virginia is up by about half compared to last year, according to an August report by Bentek, a company that analyzes energy trends.

A review written by professors at the University of Pittsburgh and Penn State and published in May in the journal Science stressed the need for better water quality monitoring and more study of the environmental effects in gas-producing areas.

"When gas wells are drilled, sometimes the gas migrates around the well and into the groundwater. Though this is not common, more information is needed about the site-specific risk factors that contribute to those problems," said Susan Brantley, distinguished professor of geosciences at Penn State University. "Geological conditions can vary from one gas drilling site to another, and without that information it will be difficult to definitively answer the question of whether gas extraction through hydraulic fracturing is having an impact on water resources."

A Massachusetts Institute of Technology study cautioned against relying on shale natural gas sources because "evidence of overreaching today should dampen confidence the future of this resource."

The report stated that the shale boom should be used as a conduit to renewable and low-impact energy resources, not as the answer to the U.S. energy quandary.

"While taking advantage of this gift in the short run, treating gas a 'bridge' to a low-carbon future, it is crucial not to allow the greater ease of the near-term task to erode efforts to prepare a landing at the other end of the bridge," it concluded.

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