According to David Greene, associate professor of geosciences, this statement is largely false. Of course the controversial hydraulic fracking process involves water infused with chemicals, “but these are not as toxic as some people would have you believe,” says Greene. Still, he says, you don’t want to dump them into the neighborhood stream. The solution is proper extraction and disposal of the contaminated water. In Pennsylvania, for example, companies are cropping up to recycle the waste water from the fracking process. Greene’s argument: As long as the process is handled well, the terrible side effects touted in the media and films like Gasland are rare occurrences.
Will we be seeing large-scale earthquakes and damage as a result of drilling for natural gas? No, says Greene. The biggest impact will be industry invading rural areas—tanks in farm fields, drills on the horizon. Is this ideal? Of course not, says Greene, but you have to consider drilling and fracking in context. “You have to look at the alternatives,” he says. “Mountaintop coal. Wars in the Middle East. This process has positive impacts and negative impacts, like any technique. For me the positive impacts locally, nationally, and globally far outweigh the negative.”
Joe Reczek, assistant professor of chemistry, agrees with Greene that, in the short term at least, fracking and drilling aren’t likely to cause daily catastrophes, although he has no doubt that there will certainly be some accidents as we implement the technology. Even so, his larger concern lies in the negative impacts down the road, and it’s not so much in the technique as it is in the result. When methane is burned, it too releases carbon dioxide, and carbon dioxide is the leading contributor to climate change. So, for Reczek, it’s true: fracking is indeed bad for us. If we continue to invest in new ways to get to and burn carbon, he says, we will simply delay any real shift to clean energy. In other words, “As long as we’re getting energy from some combustion of carbon,” he says, “that’s a bad thing.”