The MIT report on fracking

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In his letter about obtaining natural gas by the process of hydraulic fracturing (May 18), Frank Splendoria quoted extensively from a report issued by MIT. His quotes were accurate, but selective, giving the impression that there is no evidence that fracking poses (or could pose) any threat to shallow groundwater, and that fossil fuels will continue to provide the majority of our energy into the foreseeable future.

I find different lessons in the report. It considers natural gas as “a cost-effective bridge to ... a low-carbon future.” This means greatly reducing carbon dioxide emissions by reducing or eliminating the use of fossil fuels.

The report also describes the main risks posed to the environment by fracking. A summary of widely reported incidents related to gas drilling on-shore is provided. There is no claim to thoroughness. “The data set does not purport to be comprehensive, but is intended to give a sense of the relative frequency of various types of incidents.” “Of the 43 widely reported incidents, almost half appear to be related to the contamination of shallow water zones primarily with natural gas.” Surprised?

An important conclusion from the report, not quoted by Frank Splendoria, stated that “research and regulation, both state and Federal, are needed to minimize the environmental consequences.” That’s what the “fuss” is about. A similar conclusion, stated even more strongly, was reached by the editorial board of Scientific American in the issue of November, 2011. They noted that the Environmental Protection Agency is conducting “comprehensive field research,” with preliminary results expected in late 2012.† They recommended that states should “put the brakes on the drillers” until they have had a chance to consider the results of the federal study.

Decide for yourself between these conflicting interpretations of the MIT report: http://web.mit.edu/mitei/research/studies/documents/natural-gas-2011/Nat...

Robert E. Pearson