I was excited to see a feature on hydraulic fracking in the April 2012 issue (Chemistry World, April 2012, p60). Although the process has been around for some time, it is getting more and more press in recent months. Particular emphasis (at least in the US) is placed on the fact that this ‘new’ source of energy will render us independent of foreign oil, and provide the cleanest burning fossil fuel (methane). Yet, more often than not, vivid details that describe the environmental concerns of fracking are rarely included as part of this ‘new energy’ optimism. Although there are a number of media outlets (even a motion picture documentary) that detail these concerns, I was bothered by the emptiness in the section on environmental concerns in the Chemistry World piece. For example, hydraulic fracking wells are thought to have caused natural gas contamination of drinking water (in the US at least), so much in fact, that the water can be ignited from the tap. One sentence like this puts the whole operation of fracking into perspective. Perhaps I am a hypocrite because I enjoy my technology and my life depends on oil. But, on the other hand, I am also actively researching sustainable energy alternatives. Also of note in the article, the main component of natural gas is repeatedly described as being ethane, yet methane is actually its major component (70–90%).
Brookhaven National Laboratory, US