The environmental impacts of fracking have been a subject of heated debate. The concerns are serious and certainly warrant further investigation if nothing else. The potential exists that fracking increases greenhouse gas emissions, particularly, methane. Natural gas systems contribute nearly a third of the total output. Another issue exists with possible groundwater contamination.
These concerns prompted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to introduce new regulations aimed at reducing air pollution. According to the EPA, this will reduce emissions by up to 95 percent. On the surface, this move seems to be a giant step in the right direction. However, the situation isn’t as it appears.
The new regulations apply just to a small portion of the fracking operations, specifically, to those with mineral rights managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. This fraction only amounts to 11 percent of the country’s natural gas supply.
Assessing the Impact
Adding to the confusion is a lack of consent on what are the precise environmental impacts of fracking. The primary issues are drinking water contamination and the potential for earthquakes. A study by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) concluded that there was no direct evidence to link fracking with contamination. The report also downplayed the earthquake threat, stating only small events occur.
These findings contradict other research into the impacts. A study by the EPA found fracking was directly responsible for groundwater contamination in the Wind River formation and aquifer in Wyoming. Both the USGS and the EPA acknowledge that further investigation is necessary owning to the fact that natural forces are also a major player with groundwater contamination.
A Drop in the Bucket
The conflicting data add to confusion. What is more disturbing, however, is the halfhearted effort by the EPA to address an environmental issue that the agency has confirmed. It also underscores the need for definitive evidence before the nation makes an all-out effort to increase natural gas systems. An energy alternative that trades one type of pollution for another is not a solution.
Natural gas supplied 25 percent of the United States’ energy needs in 2011. With regulations targeting coal plants, there is a greater need to assess the environmental impacts of natural gas as the country shifts its energy focus.