Natural Gas Drilling: What We Don’t Know

Pro Publica article

It takes brute force to wrest natural gas from the earth. Millions of gallons of chemical-laden water mixed with sand — under enough pressure to peel paint from a car — are pumped into the ground, pulverizing a layer of rock that holds billions of small bubbles of gas.

The chemicals transform the fluid into a frictionless mass that works its way deep into the earth, prying open tiny cracks that can extend thousands of feet. The particles of sand or silicon wedge inside those cracks, holding the earth open just enough to allow the gas to slip by.

ProPublica has also found that drilling procedures that can prevent water pollution [6] and sharply reduce toxic air emissions – another frequent side effect — are seldom required by state regulators and are mostly practiced when and where the industry wishes.

Another uncertainty arises from the enormous amounts of water needed for “fracking.” The government estimates that companies will drill at least 32,000 new gas wells annually [7] by 2012. That could mean more than 100 billion gallons of hazardous fluids will be used and disposed of each year if existing techniques, which often involve 4 million gallons of water per well, are used.

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