Let’s face it: we don’t know what the frack is going on

The topic of fracking, or horizontal hydraulic fracturing, is certainly a high-pressure topic. The Illinois House recently approved a vote, 108-9, to allow fracking in Illinois. The proposed law will affect two main shales, Southern Illinois and New Albany, both of which are located in Southern Illinois. This legislation touts job creation, economic development and increased energy independence.  However, recent cinematic depictions, such as Gasland (on Netflix) and Promised Land (by Matt Damon) show there might be more issues bubbling below the surface. Currently, the reality is that no-one understands the long-term effects of fracking.

Miners' health issues during 2010 Copiapó mini...

Miners’ health issues during 2010 Copiapó mining accident (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, what is it?

Horizontal Hydraulic Fracturing is, essentially, power-washing rock to open small cracks, which enables natural gas to escape from the shale.

Granted, the technology is slightly more advanced than a Home-Depot power-washer; but hey, you get the idea. To get a better understanding, fracking has been around since the 1930s and in use since the 1970s. However, today it takes place on a much larger scale and is set to continue growing. This poses issues that might arise as fracking becomes more prevalent.

So, what’s the problem?

The most pressing concern revolves around what the “fracking fluid” (sounds gross) is and where it goes. The fracking fluid is comprised of over 99% water and sand with the addition of some binding chemicals. The water smashes against the shale at incredibly high pressure and the sand fills in the cracks afterword. The main concern comes from the included chemicals, which hold the sand together and increase the pressure. The EPA has begun focusing on the chemicals and the affects they have on local drinking water.

There is worry that removing a natural gas layer, in addition to pumping chemicals through the ground, might cause permanent ecological damage.

That said, horizontal, hydraulic fracturing includes plenty of benefits, and the state of Illinois has imposed some of the most stringent ecological requirements around. Fracking will certainly increase jobs, economic opportunities, and decrease dependency on foreign energy.

Ultimately, It is important to keep in mind that this is not fully understood and there may be more to the story than what meets the eye..

For more information, the engineering department at the University of Michigan has a great explanation here:

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