No matter what we do about fracking – increase it, limit it or stop it – we’re going to have to clean the wastewater already created in the process. The need is clear. The politics, not so much. A new article in Foreign Policy suggests, however, that if scientists and fossil fuel industry leaders work more closely together, the resulting innovations could move us in new, more constructive directions.
Thanks to fracking, the US has decreased its dependence on foreign oil and is now a net exporter of natural gas for the first time ever. The gains came quickly, but some say the spread of fracking outran the science, and many fear resulting air and water pollution. A science-based approach to fracking management could help address these fears.
The Foreign Policy article looks at the situation in Pennsylvania, where the fracking industry has revitalized several small towns. At the same time, “produced water” from the fracking process polluted streams, rivers and eventually drinking water and well water. Regulators strengthened policies, but they didn’t resolve all the problems. We know most of the risks that fracking poses to freshwater resources, but the risks have “defied quantification,” the article says.
Enter the scientists. The article’s author, James Seiers, leads a team of Yale University researchers collaborating with industry leaders to assess the potential groundwater impacts of shale gas development in Pennsylvania. One recent Yale-Southwestern Energy study cost $500,000, he said, but there are multiple ways to pay for it and the cost is low when you realize it’s “less than one-fourth of the cost incurred to put one Marcellus well into production.”
After a joint science-industry study group agrees on methods and obtains findings, it will be key for those interests as well as legislators and the public to understand the results and incorporate the information into next steps, policies, and new ways of working together. Sounds like it’s definitely worth a try.