Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Marcellus Shale Fracking

I haven't blogged a lot about environmental issues on CSI without Dead Bodies.  That's mostly because it's a topic I do not have a lot of experience with like I do with health care.  Most of my health care blogs have moved over to Healthcare 4 All PA.  That does not mean that those issues are not important.

Here in Pennsylvania and much of the eastern US, Marcellus shale drilling for natural gas using a process called fracking has become a hot topic with strong passions on both sides.  In fracking water and chemicals are pumped into a well and the natural gas bubbles up to the surface to be used.  It can be done in a variety of settings.  The chemicals used are a proprietary secret.  This burnoff was seen for miles at the Pittsburgh Mills shopping mall on January 8, 2011/

The documentary film Gasland, which was nominated for an Oscar this year, raises a lot of concerns about the fracking process.  In one dramatic scene it shows a man in Colorado setting fire to the well water from his kitchen faucet which has been contaminated by fracking.  Other health concerns are detailed in this film.

The industry has responded strongly to discredit Gasland.  I have heard geologists for Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection argue that the kind of contamination seen above can occur from natural processes.  There are many traditional gas wells which are not accounted for in the state.  Others such as T. Boone Pickens have stated that this process provides badly needed jobs for this part of the country and is safe.  Jon Stewart doesn't really challenge him in this clip.
For those who are unfamiliar with the process it is often hard to know who is correct.  The website FracTracker is a source of data for analysis on this topic.  I will be looking at it to learn more about the pros and cons.  No one really knows what the long term implications are.  To give this topic a fair analysis it's best for me not to make any assumptions as I analyze the data.


I was just informed of another post from the Open Knowledge Foundation about how to track lobbyists work.  The gas industry, environmental activists, the health care industry and just about everyone else is engaged in this activity.  This could be helpful in a lot of investigations.

How to study lobbying with crowdsourced open data

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