Hydraulic fracturing is a big fracking deal. At least according to the documentary Groundswell Rising, Protecting Our Children’s Air and Water – a film that fiercely opposes the debated practice of “fracking.” The Geneseo Environmental Organization and FrackFreeGenesee presented the documentary to students and community members on Saturday March 29.
The controversy of hydraulic fracturing is rooted in the construction, procedure and aftermath of fracking itself. According to Distinguished Service Professor of Geological Science Richard Young, hydrofracking wells travel not only vertically into the earth – as former gas drilling technology had operated – but also horizontally, spreading up to 2,000 feet laterally in layers of shale. A pressurized mixture of sand, water and chemicals is then blasted through these pipes to break open the shale and release natural gas.
From here the debate arises. Proponents cite the creation of jobs, revenue from gas sales and the accumulation of cleaner-burning natural gas as reasons to pursue fracking. In response, fracking adversaries fire back with the negative impact on the health of surrounding communities, the visual and noise pollution from the construction of wells and the contamination of groundwater.
Both Young and the documentary placed a heavy emphasis on the idea of groundwater pollution. According to Young, natural gas is not the only thing released from cracked shale: Poisonous gases like methane, propane and even radioactivity can sometimes surface due to unknown geological structures.
“Every rock in the world has joints and fault lines, and if you force pressure up it can break them,” Young said.
As these rocks break, they leave pathways for toxic gases and potentially leaked chemicals to travel and taint groundwater.
“Not every well is going to be a disaster,” Young said. “But when problems occur it is generally too late to fix the damage.”
Another concern of fracking is what to do with the waste it creates. While chemicals comprise only one percent of the total water mixture used per well, that one percent translates into a considerable amount of toxins which must be disposed of with the waste water once fracking is completed, since a single well uses millions of gallons of water in the fracking process.
“The amount [of chemicals used per well] ends up being about the size of an Olympic swimming pool,” Young said.
Although there is currently a moratorium on fracking in New York State, GEO President senior Jen Benson, maintains that it is a relevant issue within Livingston County. She cites the local Cuylerville salt mine as an example.
“The owner, AkzoNobel Salt, wants to stop maintaining the plant – increasing the potential for collapse, which would contaminate water,” Benson said. “It’s also being considered as a potential means to store fracking waste.”
Through events like the documentary showing, Benson and other members of GEO and FrackFreeGenesee hope to raise awareness about their perspective in the fracking debate.
“[We’re] working to educate students on the limits of fossil fuel resources and the environmental and social implications of coal, oil and natural gas extraction,” Benson said.
The club remains active in their support of a frack-free state by writing letters to government officials, circulating petitions and hosting educational events.