Considering fracking in PA: The pros and (mostly) cons

Amber Matha, Staff writer

Pennsylvania is the third largest producer of natural gas in the United States, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. This natural gas is obtained through hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking. This process uses a fluid mixture of water, chemicals and sand piped deep down into the Earth’s crust to fracture the shale layer and release the gas stored inside.

Before writing this article, I knew as much about fracking as I had read on Facebook, which was all negative, and highly-biased. My support of the industry was only due to the fact that we are not relying on foreign oil as heavily to power our country.

I am still not in support of fracking. However, there are some misconceptions about the industry that I believe should be cleared up and other issues that should be brought to light.

One of the main issues I’ve seen debated on social media is the contamination of water due to fracking. According to, a public service site sponsored by Penn State that focuses on the Marcellus Shale Well, the well dives so far under the water table that it is highly unlikely that the fluid would move thousands of feet against gravity to contaminate the groundwater. Also, there are strict regulations on how close a well can be to private or naturally occurring water sources.

The possibility of the chemical- filled fluid leaking from the pipe is also highly unlikely, due to increases in technology that prevents leaks and spills from occurring. The well pipe is a steel pipe which is encased in cement. This cement layer must be poured at least 50 feet below the saturated layer. explains that the only way for gas to get into the ground water would be due to an error in the cementing around the pipe or surface spills. Since extra precautions are taken to prevent these two accidents, either situation is unlikely.

The matter that I believe should be more hotly debated is the extremely high amount of water used in the process of drilling. Three to four million gallons of water are used per treatment of the Marcellus Shale Well. Eighty percent of that water is pulled from fresh water resources. Only 10 to 30 percent of that water is extracted back out of the well to be recycled. The water left in the shale is removed from the hydraulic cycle and cannot be naturally recycled. When dealing with such large numbers, the water loss of fracking is an astronomical amount, especially considering the water crisis in places like California.

Another matter I find disturbing is that fracking is excluded from the Safe Drinking Water Act and therefore is not monitored by the EPA. The fracking industry is also excluded from the Great Lakes Compact, an agreement that limits large water withdrawals from the Great Lakes.

For more information on fracking and the use of fracking to obtain oil, Mercyhurst will host guest speaker A.R. Ingraffea, Ph.D., on Oct. 26 at 7 p.m. in the Walker Recital Hall.