Fracking: From New York to Oklahoma to Wyoming-and even England

STEPHON JOHNSON Amsterdam News Staff | 11/17/2011, 3:11 p.m.

In recent months, there have been a series of documentaries and news reports showing the likely dangers of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," for acquiring natural gas.

And while the dangers of this technique seems to be coming in sharper relief for the public, it looks the volume of gas obtained from this controversial technique may increase next year.

Hydraulic fracturing is a process in which millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals are injected at high pressure deep into the ground to extract natural gas trapped in shale rock.

According to the Associated Press, a new coalition of New York business groups, landowners and construction companies with influence in Albany politics called Clean Growth Now has joined the conversation over the possible fracking of gas wells in the Marcellus Shale formation in the Southern Tier of New York. The group said it wants to strike a middle ground for safe, responsible drilling.

Clean Growth Now calls itself a grassroots organization and claims to be a moderate voice between the gas industry and environmentalists who oppose fracking. However, some see them as a front for the gas industry, feigning the role of a non-partisan organization. No environmental groups belong to Clean Growth Now.

With New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo's 18-member fracking advisory panel possibly deciding critical environmental issues for millions of New Yorkers, citizens should expect to hear a lot more in the near future about this issue.

Should we really care or are the environmentalists simply alarmists? Well, if what has been going on in the Midwest and overseas is any indication, the environmentalists have not sounded the alarm loudly enough. In recent weeks, fracking has been linked to several minor earthquakes in places like northwest England because the water, sand and chemicals lubricated an already stressed fault zone, which makes the land easier to shift.

According to Scientific American, there is worry that the recent 5.6 magnitude earthquake that struck Oklahoma-the biggest earthquake ever recorded in the state-was the result of years of fracking.

Between 1972 and 2008, only two to six earthquakes were reported each year in Oklahoma and weren't noticed by most people. However, in 2009, close to 50 earthquakes were recorded, and that number more than doubled in 2010 with 1,047. Of those earthquakes, 103 were powerful enough to be felt by Oklahomans.

While those reports have raised the collective eyebrow of fracking opponents, seismologist Randy Keller, director of the Oklahoma Geological Survey, told Scientific American that fracking isn't to blame here, though he didn't completely rule out its effects either.

"There was a lot of deformation of the Earth here 300 million years ago that created huge geological structures in the subsurface that shift from time to time," Keller told the publication. "We have an unstable situation here, and it's one reason why oil and gas is available here in the first place."

"I won't say that man's activity never ever caused the release of seismic stress, but hydro-fracks are such small things. If we were talking a magnitude 1 or 2 earthquake, that'd be different, but it's awfully hard to imagine hydro-fracking being involved with one of this size."