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Op-Ed: Are economic opportunities created by fracking worth the risks?

By Leigh Goessl     Feb 6, 2013 in Environment
Hydraulic fracturing, probably better known as "fracking", is a controversial issue in the U.S. and across the pond. Proponents of this practice often cite economic opportunities as the primary benefits.
Supporters of fracking often point to the economic benefits associated with this ability to extract gas and oil. True, jobs are created and business expands, which is good for the local and overall economies. Then, there is the independent energy supply for the country extracting the gas, which is also a plus.
Economic Growth Linked to Fracking
In Ohio, business is reportedly booming because of fracking. According to The Columbus Dispatch, a 2012 report sponsored by the Ohio Share Coalition, a pro-fracking group, indicated hydraulic fracturing could create 65,680 jobs and a $4.9 billion of investment over the next two years [PDF].
To the east, in New York, according to a recent Reuters report, a 2011 analysis found fracking could generate $11.4 billion in economic output and raise $1.4 billion in state and local tax revenue.
There are likely similar reports in other areas already engaged in, or considering, fracking.
Concerns Over Fracking
Many are benefiting from the gas industry, but there is also a sense of concern. And not without good reason.
Fracking is a process that relies on the use of high-pressure injections of water, sand and chemicals, which are used to break through rock to release the oil and gas inside. Millions of gallons of water are used to fracture each well.
Another consideration, as one industry booms, another may suffer, such as the brewers that rely upon water supplies in order to make beer, as NBC mentioned in this piece.
"It's all about the quality of the water," Simon Thorpe, CEO of the Ommegang Brewery in Cooperstown, N.Y., told NBC. "The technology surrounding fracking is still not fully developed. Accidents are happening. Places are getting polluted."
Thorpe noted he chose New York as his business location because of the fresh water supply.
Due to risk factors, farmers in Ohio are torn on fracking. On one hand, leasing out properties could generate a tidy sum of income, but on the other hand, the land could be permanently damaged and end up contaminated.
"Farmers' livelihoods depend on the integrity of the soil, clean water and pollution-free air," according to the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, reported the Dispatch. "Because of their reliance on the land, farmers are among those most at risk to suffer from the negative impacts of fracking. As the fracking industry grows in Ohio, farmers’ concerns are mounting."
Benefits Vs. Risks
The economic benefits must be attractive in any community, especially during a time when the overall economy has had a dire outlook. Every local economy wants to add jobs and business growth. Energy supplies have also been an ongoing concern and fracking would address these issues.
However, due to the perceived risks associated with hydraulic fracturing, including health and environmental effects, another huge concern is how injecting all these chemicals may affect water supplies, which would have a horrific impact on farmers if a fracking-related disaster were to occur.
Currently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is working on a study that is due out in late 2014. Recently, the agency released a 275-page progress report which addressed water contamination, but it did not address "how often" pollution may occur.
Not to mention earthquakes that have occurred in regions on both sides of the Atlantic that typically do not experience strong tremors.
Interestingly enough, the industry is not included in the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act, and also does not have to disclose the chemicals used in the cocktail mix that is injected into the ground. Companies cite this information as trade secret and proprietary.
That's all well and good for business, but what happens if these unknown chemical mixtures used in fracking ends up causing some serious and health contamination? Digital Journal reported last year on a Pennsylvania town that found methane in its water supply.
New York is currently center-stage in its fracking debate. An ongoing issue, as Digital Journal reported yesterday, opponents are taking to Twitter to voice their concerns to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in a "tweetstorm".
While the economic benefits are clear, what is not so clear are the risk factors often linked to fracking.
How would a boosted economy fare if disaster or contamination occurs because of fracking? There are always tradeoffs in any type of progress, but sometimes the risks may not outweigh the benefits.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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