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The Rocky Mountain Collegian

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CSU professors offer expertise on impacts of fracking

Fracking: the process of drilling into the ground and injecting water and chemical mixtures under high pressure to fracture rocks and make it easier for natural gas and petroleum to flow more freely.

There were 840 reported spills due to fracking in 2014.

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Thomas Borch, Department of Soil and Crop Sciences at CSU, and Anthony Marchese, Department of Mechanical Engineering at CSU, answer questions from the public about fracking and what sorts of risks it may or may not pose to the environment. (photo credit: madison brandt).
Thomas Borch, Department of Soil and Crop Sciences at CSU, and
Anthony Marchese, Department of Mechanical Engineering at CSU, answer questions from the public about fracking and what sorts of risks it may or may not pose to the environment. (photo credit: madison brandt).

“This is approximately one spill per every five wells drilled,” said Thomas Borch, professor of the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences, at a CSU School of Global Environmental Sustainability panel titled “Fracking: Does it pose a risk to our environment?”

Up to 600 chemicals are known ingredients in fracking fluids, including toxins and carcinogens such as radium, methanol, lead, uranium, mercury, ethylene glycol, hydrochloric acid and formaldehyde. The pressurized mixtures are launched into the well, cracking shale rock and allowing natural gas to flow.

It is possible for methane gas and toxins to leak from the system and contaminate nearby water sources.

“There are many opportunities for leakage throughout the entire national gas supply chain, including through fracking,” said Anthony Marchese, a professor of the CSU Department of Mechanical Engineering at the fracking panel.

Methane concentrations in drinking water are roughly 17 times higher near fracking sites. In addition, chemicals from the fracking process can contaminate nearby lands, sometimes influencing agriculture and wildlife habitats.

“We need to get a better understanding of what is coming out of the wells when we frack, specifically how it affects soil and water,” Borch said.

Professor Jay Ham of the CSU Department of Soil and Crop Sciences, also a panelist, offered a similar opinion.

“We need to know more about what’s actually being emitted into the air,” Ham said. “That’s why it’s so important for research to continue.”

According to Ham, research needs to continue to determine the exact effects of hydraulic fracturing on the environment, and quickly.

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“We should especially avoid fracking in areas that are habitats for rare or endangered species,” said Liba Pejchar, professor in the CSU Department of Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Biology and speaker at the fracking panel. “Besides the actual fracking itself, the process takes roads and pipelines which have the potential to disrupt natural habitats.”

Pejchar said that fracking should occur on already disturbed lands to minimize any further damage to healthier, untouched areas of the environment.

“Ultimately we should move toward a place where fracking information is more public so people know what’s going on,” Pejchar said.

According to Borch, this is exactly what has been happening over the last decade.

“We’re seeing more and more mitigation between cities and the involvement of their citizens,” Borch said. “A lot of fracking sites have opened to the public, allowing more research and knowledge available for the public.”

The first technique for hydraulic fracturing dates back to 1947.

“Since the original developments, we’ve seen a lot of response and improvement from the companies involved in fracking, especially through technology,” Ham said. “There are rules that companies need to follow now.”

Borch speculates that mitigation and communication between fracking companies, scientists and citizens is the best way to proceed with the least amount of controversy.

“Inspection and communication should increase,” Ham said. “If you know you’ll be weighed every morning, then you’ll watch what you eat.”

Collegian Reporter Jessie Trudell can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @JessieTrudell.

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