What is fracking?

Several weeks ago—before I had attended the Power Shift environmental conference in Washington, D.C.—I couldn’t have told you.

Last summer, as an intern at a newspaper, I sometimes heard reporters throwing the term around. I remember thinking, “Fracking is an excellent word.” My interest ended there.

Let’s say you’re like I was in the recent past, and you’ve never heard of fracking (or you’ve heard of it but you’ve never bothered to figure out what it is). Let’s also say that a gust of wind comes along and blows away your Argus just as you finish reading this sentence, which means that you’ll have to Google the word rather than read on to learn more. So you search “fracking,” and you learn that it’s slang for “hydraulic fracturing,” which you also Google. You click on the first hit: hydraulicfracturing.com.

A whole website devoted to the subject of your inquiry—how fortuitous! In the FAQ section, you learn: “Hydraulic fracturing, commonly referred to as fracking, is the process of creating small cracks, or fractures, in underground geological formations to allow natural gas to flow into the wellbore and on to the surface where the gas is collected and prepared for sale to a wide variety of consumers.”

If you keep reading, you’ll also learn that hydraulic fracturing is “safe” and “necessary.”

Natural gas is an important part of President Obama’s plan for a “clean energy economy.” Best of all, natural gas comes from deposits beneath our own land—no more Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC)! Fracking makes natural gas easier to obtain. It all sounds idyllic.

But there’s one catch: hydraulicfracturing.com is a commercial website with no advertisements. Did someone create, design, research, and fund it out of the goodness of his or her heart? As it turns out, a corporation called Chesapeake Energy created the site. What, you may ask, provides this corporation incentive to keep the public so well informed about fracking?

According to chesepeakenergy.com, the company is “the most active driller of new wells in the U.S.” Now that we know that learning about fracking from hydraulicfracking.com is roughly equivalent to learning about Halliburton from Dick Cheney, let us turn our attention toward another reliable source of information: The New York Times.

On March 2, the Times reported, “wastewater from such drilling, which contains radioactive material, is regularly dumped into rivers and streams without proper treatment.” Thanks for leaving that one out, Chesapeake Energy.

In towns across America, people who live near fracking sites have reported that their drinking water has suddenly become flammable. Go on YouTube if you want to procrastinate by watching disturbing videos of people igniting the fluid that comes out of their sink—the same water that they’ve been giving to their children.

Representative Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, the ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, summarized the issue best when he said, “Americans should not have to consume radioactive materials from their drinking water as a byproduct of natural gas production.” If you are interested in learning more, read Ian Urbina’s ongoing series on natural gas drilling in The New York Times, or watch “Gasland,” a 2010 documentary film directed by Josh Fox.

And say no to fracking! Let your local government and state governments know how you feel. Write to your congressmen and congresswomen. See if anyone is fracking where you live. The energy crisis has made us desperate for solutions; let’s make sure that we don’t settle for false ones.

If you live in New York City and environs, take heed: energy companies are fighting for the opportunity to frack in parts of the Marcellus Shale that lie within the city’s watershed. Hopefully, New Yorkers won’t let this happen. I mean, what the frack?

Soloway is a member of the class of 2013.

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