Arguably the worst part about natural gas is the intensive processing it must go through to become useable. This requires a lot of energy and produces harmful by-products such as ethane, propane, butane, sulfur, hydrocarbons, and sometimes helium and nitrogen. It, in and of itself, is also a potent greenhouse gas.
Natural gas extraction, while a decades old technology in the United States, faces several difficulties.
First of all, it often occurs in oil wells, and running both an oil derrick or drilling platform and a natural gas platform out of the same well is rather costly and technically difficult. As a result, natural gas is often ‘flared’ off, which not only wastes the gas but releases methane and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
In the past two decades a process called ‘hydraulic fracturing’ has become both prevalent and newsworthy in the natural gas industry. Rather than drilling vertically into a gas well, they angle the drill once its reached a certain depth and drill horizontally. The drillers then seal off the well so its pressurized, and inject water, a proppant (like sand), and a host of unknown chemicals into the well. This pressure imbalance allows the gas the seep out of the rock formation and into the well, allowing for high rates of extraction.
But the unknown chemicals I mentioned have popped up in states like Texas, Wyoming, Colorado, New York, and Pennsylvania for having leached into the water supply. These chemicals, the few that we know, contain benzene- known to cause cancer- among a whole slew of others too long to mention here.
The contamination of drinking water is the most pressing issue currently, and the EPA is conducting its own study due out next year, while many states have passed moratoriums on drilling.
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