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Cornell Scientist Says Case Against Fracking Continues to Grow Stronger

Aug 19, 2014

A Cornell University engineering professor says published research shows an increasingly stronger case against hydraulic fracturing – fracking.

Fracking uses large quantities of highly pressurized water and chemicals to break apart shale and release oil and natural gas reserves. Prof. Anthony Ingraffea raises three major concerns with the drilling technique: groundwater contamination near fracking sites, earthquakes, and accidental methane gas emissions. Ingraffea feels there is now "scientific consensus that human-induced seismicity does occur" as a result of the disposal of fracking wastewater in underground injection wells, Mother Jones magazine reports.

A study published last month in Science suggests that a recent dramatic increase in earthquake activity in Oklahoma is linked to the proliferation of wastewater wells, Mother Jones reports. Ingraffea explains that injected wastewater “changes the pressure” on previously stable faults and this can result in earthquakes.

Though earthquakes are a serious concern, Ingraffea, in an Inquiring Minds podcast, cites methane gas emissions as a potentially more serious threat from fracking. In a 2011 study published in Climatic Change, Ingraffea and two other Cornell researchers said that between 3.6 and 7.9 percent of methane gas from shale drilling operations escapes into the atmosphere, where it contributes to global warming. Methane, they wrote, “is about 80 to 90 times . . . more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide" over a period of 20 to 30 years, according to Mother Jones.

In 2013, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) underestimates methane emissions from both conventional drilling and fracking. A 2014 paper in Science also faulted the EPA’s methane measurements, but held out the possibility that natural gas can still be part of a cleaner energy future if methane emissions are controlled. A new EPA rule will require natural gas drillers to capture methane at drilling sites, Mother Jones reports, but Ingraffea finds the new regulation inadequate because it applies only to new gas wells and does not apply to oil wells.

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