Hydrofracking: toxic costs for a clean, cheap fuel

hydrofrackingpoison

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This chart from a New York Times article last year shows one of the costs of hydraulic fracturing, a technique for extracting natural gas tightly locked in shale strata by means of fracturing the shale and forcing out the gas with a mixture of water, chemicals and sand.   Even when this is done properly, there remains the problem of disposing of the waste water, which contains not only the hydrofracking chemicals but sometimes underground toxic metals and radioactive elements.

Some benefits of hydrofracking are shown in the charts below.  The technique increases the supply of natural gas, which drives down the price, and the increased use of clean-burning natural gas lessens greenhouse gas emissions.  Hydrofracking isn’t the sole reason for either lower prices or lower carbon emissions, but it is a big contributor.

us-natural-gas-price-in-jan-2012

us-carbon-emission-tableNatural gas prices in inflation-adjusted dollars are the lowest since 1976.  Carbon dioxide emissions are the lowest since 1994.  But before we in upstate New York join in the hydrofracking boom, we should ask ourselves—which will be more permanent, the benefits or the costs?   It seems to me that we will still be dealing with the costs long after the boom is over.

Click on Regulation Lax as Gas Wells’ Tainted Water Hits Rivers for the New York Times article.

Click on Why US natural gas prices are so low for analysis of the economics of natural gas.

Click on U.S. Carbon Emissions Fall to Lowest Levels Since 1994 for more about the benefits of clean-burning natural gas.

Click on The record is clear: Obama delivers on clean energy for comment on President Obama’s support for hydrofracking.

Click on A Mysterious Patch of Light Shows Up in the North Dakota Dark for a report on North Dakota’s natural gas boom.

Click on Future Bakken Production and Hydrofracking for a report on the temporary nature of North Dakota’s boom.

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