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The price of gas – natural gas, that is

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Amanda Stevenson-Grund

Posted February 17, 2012
By Amanda Stevenson-Grund

Some days, you just feel tired and out of energy. You’re not the only one. Without the energy created from natural gas, the entire United States would feel the loss of energy. However, some places have stopped drilling for natural gas because of concerns about possible environmental harm from the practice of hydraulic fracturing.

This halt isn’t necessary, according to a new study from the energy institute at the University of Texas at Austin, which reports that properly conducted hydraulic fracturing doesn’t negatively impact health or environment.

Hydraulic fracturing, commonly called “fracking,” is a process that extracts oil from oil shale using pressure. Oil shale is a type of sedimentary rock that contains oil and natural gas, some of which naturally seeps through pores in the rock. This natural occurrence doesn’t produce much natural gas on its own. However, with fracking, we can collect the remaining natural gas, which makes collecting shale gas worthwhile.

According to Propublica, the fracking process begins when trucks bring water to a natural gas well. The natural gas collectors mix the water with sand and chemicals. They force the mixture, known as fracking fluid, into the well. The pressure of the water, sand and chemicals breaks open, or fractures, the shale and forces the rest of the gas upward to the collectors.

Reports of unsafe groundwater and well water near fracking locations have residents and offiicials concerned that fracking and the chemicals used in the fracking fluid cause the contamination. The UT study, however, states otherwise. The study’s five key findings about environmental impact are:

1. There’s no evidence that the chemicals in fracking fluid are leaking or contaminating water wells.
2. Groundwater contamination happens in other types of oil and gas extraction, not just fracking.
3. It’s probable that the methane found in some water wells is natural and was there before the fracking started.
4. Fracking fluid spills are more likely to contaminate groundwater sources than actual fracking.
5. Blowouts, accidental discharges of fracking fluid, happen rarely. However, underground blowouts are under-reported.

This means that properly conducted fracking is no less dangerous than other types of oil and gas collection. But what about fracking accidents?  What about the spills and blowouts? These could cause contamination. As long as everything runs perfectly, fracking’s as safe as its conventional counterparts. But until the process is perfected, we’ll see just how much gas costs.

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