Hydrofracking is one of the most volatile forms of fossil fuel extraction around. I say this not as an environmentalist, but as an engineer. My classmates can vouch for me when I say that engineering students are drilled in the art of logical deduction. We understand that opinions and actions can have repercussions that can affect the lives of millions. Without adequate logical planning — and I’m not even talking about something crazy scientific, simply weighing the pros and cons would suffice — any project can turn disastrous. This was clearly not the approach taken by the New York based group, Clean Growth Now, when they decided that hydrofracking can be safe.

Just like that, huh? The self-proclaimed “moderate voice” of the hydrofracking debate — which has conspicuously forgotten to include any environmentalist experts on its panel — appears to have turned a blind eye to the laundry list of problems associated with the practice.

For those of you who may not be familiar with hydraulic fracturing known as hydrofracking — here’s the lowdown. It’s a method used to extract natural gas that channels millions of gallons of highly pressurized water — along with hundreds of toxic chemicals and particulate matter — to break through bedrock and reach natural gas deposits deep below the surface.

This method of extraction poses a serious threat to the health of people as well as the environment. The water that is used to break up the bedrock is ridden with chemicals that contaminate the groundwater in the vicinity of the hydrofracking. The Environmental Protection Agency has recently been investigating this matter in Pavillion, WY, where concerns have grown over the levels of contaminates in drinking water caused by local hydrofracking.

The EPA has advised the residents of the city to not cook with or drink the water. It has also advised that showers should be taken only with adequate ventilation to avoid the inhalation of the chemicals.

Encana, the company responsible for the hydrofracking in the area, has taken necessary steps — including providing alternative water sources to the citizens — to lessen the blow of probable lawsuits. Once further investigation is done, the company will surely be responsible for the ensuing remediation processes.

Unfortunately, this is not a unique situation throughout the country, and it begs the question: How can something so destructive be allowed to occur in populated areas? The fiscal benefit of hydrofracking seems to have put health concerns on the back burner.

A Feb. 26 New York Times article assures us that poisoning our groundwater is not the only problem associated with hydraulic fracturing. The water used to break through the ground can sometimes be tainted by radioactive materials that exist naturally below the surface. The highly pressurized slurry of water injected is pumped out of the excavation and placed in a retention pond for decontamination and then shipped off to the nearest wastewater treatment plant.

However, negligent laws governing the on-site treatment have allowed the radioactive levels of the water to go largely untouched. Wastewater plants don’t have the capacity to treat the high levels of radioactive materials present in the drilling water and have no choice but to discharge the contaminated water into local water supplies. In Pennsylvania, the radioactive levels detected were thousands of times greater than federal standards. Although treatment of this contaminated water occurs before the water reaches our faucets, farming and fishing don’t have the benefit of this secondary treatment, and people are thus exposed to the radiation by way of ingestion.

Many proponents of hydrofracking have argued that natural gas is a cleaner energy alternative to coal, which is certainly true. There is nothing clean about the burning of coal, which is a major contributor to global warming and other air quality issues. However, coal appears to be the lesser of two evils. The benefits for the atmosphere associated with using natural gas simply don’t outweigh the irrefutable damage done to our water supply.

So how do we stop such a terrible innovation in energy technology? With alternative energy sources. Original, no? Though this point has been belabored by environmentalists across the board, it should be noted that even natural gas wells will someday run dry. We need a logical approach to this situation and address it before we have an energy Armageddon. If we divert the money from hydrofracking to, say, creating a more efficient solar panel, the looming energy crisis for our grandchildren could potentially be averted, and millions of people can stop thinking twice before running their faucets.

So next time you see one of those ExxonMobil hydrofracking commercials — laced with inspirational music and scenic nature shots — or hear the Clean Growth Now group raving about the benefits of hydrofracking and natural gas, please admire their sheer ignorance toward human health. Yes, hydrofracking is big business, but with a little more time and funding, renewable energy could be big business as well.

Joe Sugiyama can be reached at jmsugi@umich.edu.

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