What Is Fracking?

by Antonio Pasolini on January 29, 2011

Fracking's reputation goes up in flames in Gasland. Via Gaslandthemovie.com

As the Oscars approach, energy issues are on the repertory of the 2011 ceremony with the inclusion of the documentary Gasland, by Josh Fox, which had previously won a Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and will be competing in the documentary category on February, 27th.

Fracking is a short for hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracking, and involves injecting frack fluid, a mixture of water, sand and chemicals, at high pressure into shale to fracture the rock, thereby releasing trapped natural gas. The problem is that the methane released also leaks into groundwater.

The Gasland website says the average well is up to 8,000 feet deep while drinking water aquifers are about 1,000 feet. The problems typically stem from poor cement well casings that leak natural gas as well as fracking fluid into water wells.

A huge amount of chemicals is necessary, 80-300 tons for each frack, it says. The natural gas industry is not required by law to disclose the chemicals used, but scientists have identified volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene. When these evaporate, they come into contact with diesel exhaust from trucks and generators at the well site. This results in ground level ozone being produced which can then travel up to 250 miles.

Besides the water contamination issues, fracking is not very productive as only 15-40% of the fluid is recovered. Fox calls it a desperate technique in an interview with UK Guardian (27’30” into the podcast).

The seeds of the film were sown when Fox was offered $100,000 to leadse his rural Pennsylvania property to a gas company for a drilling operation. He thought the offer did not smell too good and instead of taking the money he decided to make a film about the subject. He found that these companies using this methodology are polluting fresh water supplies across America and in other parts of the world, leading to serious health problems.

The industry denies everything and says fracking is safe, but images of tap water turning into flame are quite compelling. The support of celebrities like Mark Ruffalo is also helping the film garner massive attention.

Fox set up a website for the film that, besides functioning as an activist hub, is crammed with useful information.

Watch the trailer:

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