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Surprising Science

Natural Gas Fracking Poisons Water Supplies

A study from U.S. environmental scientists suggests that a method of extracting natural gas from shale rock increases methane concentrations in drinking water taken from nearby wells.

What’s the Latest Development?

Harvesting natural gas by natural fracturing, or fracking, involves injecting large quantities of water and other fluids to fracture deep rock formations thus liberating the methane within. Having become cost effective only in the last decade, the use of fracking has skyrocketed. But is the method safe? No, according to new research published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. While the paper does not say how methane leaks into the water supply, it notes that wells located close to fracking sites contain higher quantities of methane, a poisonous and flammable gas.

What’s the Big Idea?

Natural gas is a relatively plentiful domestic energy source. It takes American man hours to harvest, which means jobs, and doesn’t require contracts with foreign governments, which means less meddlesome engagements abroad. But as a controversial method of harvesting the gas becomes more popular—by 2035 fracking is projected to account for some 47% of U.S. gas production—care must be taken to ensure the safety of our water supplies. A New York moratorium on fracking is set to expire on June 30 which, along with new research, sets the stage for a public debate on the issue. 


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