Fracking breaks ground, but does it face the future?

2015. It’s a new year, with new opportunities presenting themselves. But one issue still stands, as imperative as ever: How are we going to solve our energy needs for a sustainable future?

Our dependence on oil is astounding, but, even now, advances toward freedom from fossil fuel serfdom are being made. One such alternate option is hydraulic fracturing, better known as “fracking,” a process in which a high-pressured mix of water and chemicals is injected into the ground to force up natural gas and oil.

To many, fracking is a godsend for American energy independence and employment, bringing boom towns and prosperity, and, in the words of Russell Gold, a senior energy reporter for “The Wall Street Journal,” in “The Boom,” his 2014 book, “[unleashing] more oil and natural gas than anyone thought possible.”

For others, though, fracking is under-researched and under-regulated, diverting our attention from renewables and endangering our beautiful lands. One concern, in the words of the Center for Biological Diversity, “is mounting evidence…that [the chemicals used in fracking] are making their way into aquifers and drinking water.”

As in all debates, there is credit to both sides. And as in all debates, there is money involved. Significant money. Particularly for the frackers.

Two years ago, CHS science teacher Michael Guardino observed the debate’s powerful forces at play. At a National Science Teachers Convention in San Antonio, he accidentally found himself in a neighboring room, in which the Texas Fracking Convention was being held.

Unlike the modest breakfast offering for the teachers—“there may or may not have been coffee or donuts there”— the oil men were helping themselves to a catered feast, according to Guardino.

But are educators and policymakers forever confined to a modest breakfast at the table of energy independence? Will corporate profit continue to prohibit the spreading of reliable, unbiased science?

Not only may fracking cause earthquakes—the San Andreas Fault seems a poor place to test fate on this one—but using and possibly contaminating large volumes of water in our agriculturally-monumental state, already strapped by a three-year drought, looms large.

To compound this, a recent study by the California Council on Science and Technology says that the coveted, oil-rich Monterey Shale, which juts into southern Monterey County, “[contains] a new class of very deep unconventional reservoirs.”

Unfortunately, this means that reserves are more inaccessible and that fracking becomes less effective. Companies may then turn to a process called “acidizing,” which uses the incredibly dangerous hydrofluoric acid to dissolve “rock [formations]…folded and shattered by geological fault action,” according to Robert Collier, a researcher with climate-solutions group Next Generation.

One such area of hard-to-retrieve shale is San Benito County, where, six months ago, Guardino was surprised by “No Fracking” signs on nearly every roadside ranch.

“That tells you,” Guardino reflects, “that the ranchers don’t want it. They want their lifestyle, which is ranching. They don’t want it spoiled.”

San Benito County recently banned fracking. The state of New York has banned it as well.

And here in California, where fracking’s risks are just too great, people committed to upholding our progressive climate goals will march in Oakland on Feb. 7. Their intents include imposing a statewide moratorium on fracking and instead pursuing options like solar power towards an emissions-free future.

As Gold says, “Some believed that the twenty-first century belonged to renewables—and it might yet—but fracking has breathed new life into fossil fuels.”

But as a state, a country and a world braced against the choices of its future, is this the right path?
-Michael Montgomery