The Future of Fracking

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On Feb. 26, The Center for the Study of Democracy, The St. Mary’s River Watershed Association, The League of Women Voters, and The Natural Science and Mathematics Colloquium hosted a well-attended panel discussion in St. Mary’s Hall on “the Future of Fracking in the Chesapeake.”

The panel included discussions by Guy Alsentzer, Director of the Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper organization, Drew Cobbs, Executive Director of the American Petroleum Institute, and Craig Segal, Staff Attorney of the Sierra Club. The three presenters introduced the process of fracking and how they felt about it being implemented in the Chesapeake.

Drew Cobbs used Powerpoint slides and other media representations to discuss why he believed that hydraulic fracking is “an important thing for both our nation and the world.” Cobb argued that fracking, which is the process of drilling to extract natural gas from the Earth’s surface, is a newer and safer way to assist the U.S. gas production and help grow the economy.  According to Cobbs, the method of using horizontal drilling makes a “huge difference” and has low impact on the environment.  Cobbs stated that we should “learn from lessons that other states have been through” by using an environment friendly and effective way to extract natural gas.”

Guy Alsentzer and Craig Segal presented oppositional points to Cobbs’ statements.  According to Alsentzer, hydraulic fracking “is not a 60 year-old well proven technology” like Cobbs stated. Instead Alsentzer claimed that fracking is “an unproven technology that carries with it environmental degradation.” Alsentzer explained that fracking uses directional drilling and unsafe fluids and chemicals in order to extract the gases.  He argued that fracking in the Chesapeke would “impact the local community’s ability to have a safe environment.” Alsentzer said that his main issue with fracking was that “we don’t understand the full ramifications of liquid natural gas extraction.”

Craig Segal reiterated points that Alsentzer made and also expanded on the “significant surface contamination” that fracking presents.  “Even if it burns half as clean as coal, gas is still a problem. There are major air quality problems and major ozone problems,” said Segal.  He also argued that a method like fracking is only beneficial to major oil companies and not to the environment.  “They win but the country loses,” said Segal.  He continued to note how fracking would negatively effect the environment through land and air pollution. “Is it the right choice when we’re dealing with climate changes? No,” Segal stated.

The three panel members continued to debate utilizing fracking and dealing with the global demand of affordable energy.  They attempted to answer questions from the audience but the controversial nature of the topic was evident when certain audience members posed personal opinions and statements as opposed to asking questions. Whether the process of hydraulic fracking is detrimental or beneficial to the U.S economy and to the global issue of climate change is still to be determined and open up for debate.

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