Journalist Alex Prud’homme argued that the fracking debate is polarized and oversimplified in a speech at International House last night to promote his new book, Hydrofracking: What Everyone Needs to Know.
Prud’homme claimed his book is an objective and evenhanded analysis of the environmental, political, and economic issues in question. “[Hydrofracking] is neither all good nor all bad,” Prud’homme said. “There’s always been a give and take between energy and environmental concerns.”
Hydrofracking, shorthand for hydraulic fracturing, is a process that extracts compressed natural gas by injecting millions of gallons of a water-sand-chemical cocktail into shale rock at 90,000 pounds per square inch.
In his talk, Prud’homme said hydrofracking can lead to a stronger economy, fewer emissions, and potential energy independence. Some of the economic benefits include the 600,000 current U.S. jobs in hydrofracking and the in-sourcing of chemical companies like Dow, which have relocated back to the United States.
As for environmental advantages, America’s falling CO2 emissions rate can at least partially be attributed to natural gas’s greatly reduced CO2 limit as compared to coal, he said. Moreover, Prud’homme showed that hydrofracking consumes less water than either coal power, nuclear power, or even golf courses.
He did, however, mention that the 2,500 chemicals used in the hydrofracking sludge cocktail are disconcerting. Prud’homme cited a controversial 2012 study by Cornell University professor Robert Howarth that suggested that methane was leeching into the water supply in many fracking operations. While a University of Texas paper responded with a contrary finding, the jury is still out and the EPA is currently studying the issue.
The geological implications can be disturbing too. Prud’homme cited a 5.7 magnitude earthquake in Oklahoma that was attributed to a fracking operation as an example.
Prud’homme’s interest in hydrofracking began at public meetings in New York in 2009 where drilling the Marcellus region, 95,000 square miles of gas-rich shale rock that extends from New York to Ohio, was discussed.
“The stakes are enormous,” Prud’homme said of the Marcellus region. “It’s thought to be the single largest energy deposit in the United States and the second largest natural gas deposit in the world. ”
Prud’homme recalls a deeply divided and exaggerated discourse at the meetings and knew there was a journalistic role to be filled.
“While shale energy is too important to ignore, its health and environmental impacts are too important to overlook,” he said.