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12-2010 From the Editor
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Controversy Over Fracc’ing
Proves Highly
Combustible

By Tim Triplett, Editor-in-Chief

Go to YouTube and search for “lighting water on fire” and you will find several startling videos of people igniting their household taps. While certainly not scientific proof of anything, such images of burning water illustrate the incendiary nature of the environmental debate over the controversial drilling technique known as “fracc’ing.”

Fracc’ing refers to the hydraulic fracturing process energy companies are using more and more to get at the vast energy reserves locked in shale fields all across North America. By drilling wells vertically into the earth and horizontally through the shale, and then pumping fluid, sand and chemicals down the shaft at enormous pressures, they are able to shatter the shale deposits and release more of the oil and gas within them.

Exploration of the shale plays promises to be a boon for suppliers to the U.S. energy industry, especially makers of the steel pipe and tubing used in the drilling process and in the pipelines needed to transmit the oil and gas to market. How big a boon depends on the outcome from the intensifying debate over the environmental effects of fracc’ing, which is likely to have at least some dampening effect on drilling and thus pipe and tube demand.

Citizen and environmental groups have expressed fears that all the chemicals the energy companies pump into the earth will somehow taint the water supply. That the energy companies are reluctant to discuss the specific chemicals they use “for competitive reasons” only makes their actions seem more suspicious. In response to pleas from the public, EPA officials have launched a new study to verify that the water supply is safe from this type of drilling. Initial results from the study will be available in late 2012.

Energy companies claim they are the victims of much misleading information about fracc’ing (including provocative Internet videos). They argue that the practice is safe, creates jobs, stimulates the economy and helps relieve the country’s dependency on foreign energy sources. Natural gas supplies a fifth of the energy used in the U.S., and domestic reserves could meet the country’s needs for more than 100 years. But without hydraulic fracturing, much of this supply would remain beyond reach, according to the American Petroleum Institute.

Let’s just hope that the findings of EPA’s study, and any new regulations that result from it, can safeguard the environment without disrupting the whole fracc’ing market.

  
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