Joe Nocera for The New York Times: A Fracking Rorschach Test

October 4th, 2013

The New York Times
by Joe Nocera
October 4, 2013

A few weeks ago, a group of scientists led by David T. Allen of the University of Texas published an important, peer-reviewed paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The subject was our old friend hydraulic fracturing — a k a fracking — that infamous process that allows companies to drill for natural gas trapped in shale formations deep below the earth’s surface.

Thanks to the fracking boom, America is on the verge of overtaking Russia as the world’s largest producer of oil and gas, as The Wall Street Journal pointed out a few days ago. Supporters of fracking (like me) tend to focus on the economic and foreign policy blessings that come with being able to supply so much more of our energy needs in-house, as it were. Critics, however, fear that fracking could have grave environmental consequences. And they worry that the abundance of natural gas will keep America hooked on fossil fuels.

Ever since April 2011, when Robert Howarth, Renee Santoro and Anthony Ingraffea of Cornell University published a study that purported to “evaluate the greenhouse gas footprint” of fracking, there has been an additional fear: that the process of extracting all that gas from the ground was creating an emissions problem that made coal look good by comparison.

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