Clearspeak: By their loopholes shall ye know them

Community Columnist

In the summer of 2009, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who has done much to clean up the Hudson through the Waterkeeper Alliance he founded, enthusiastically declared that natural gas production from fracking “has made it possible to eliminate our dependence on deadly, destructive coal practically overnight.”

Now Kennedy and other environmentalists are backing away in light of the negative evidence pouring in from states at the epicenter of the fracking boom.

But the temptation to frack remains strong. When we talk about the Marcellus Shale formation, the huge underground deposit of gas-bearing shale that runs from West Virginia to upstate New York, we’re talking about a vast energy reserve ideally situated along existing natural gas pipelines and adjacent to the heavy-consumption east coast markets. One commentator compared this to discovering an underground deposit of beer directly beneath Yankee Stadium.

Above all, fracking holds out the shining prospect of energy independence – the bridge to a future where we have finally weaned ourselves from dependence on foreign oil and the concomitant need periodically to intervene militarily in the most unstable regions of the globe.

Hard as it may be to believe, Bloomberg News recently reported that partly due to the boom in natural gas production brought about by fracking “the U.S. is the closest it has been in almost 20 years to achieving energy self-sufficiency. The U.S. is producing so much natural gas that … it now may approve an export terminal.”

Energy independence would be a very, very good thing. Just ask any loved one of any of the nearly 4,500 American soldiers killed in Iraq. But we shouldn’t have to poison ourselves to obtain it.

The solution would be to frack in an environmentally sustainable way.

Easy to say. Hard to achieve. Why?

Let’s start by reviewing how fracking is done. “Fracking” is short for “hydraulic fracturing.” According to an excellent book on the subject “The End of Country,” by Seamus McGraw, it works like this. You drill a hole maybe a mile deep, and then once you’re down there bend the hole into a horizontal branch perhaps half a mile in length. You encase the hole. Then you send down what amounts to pipe bombs – small packages containing shrapnel and explosives. Once detonated, the shrapnel opens up small holes in the casing.

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