April 10, 2012

Power Up: Natural Gas

Does this resource solve our energy issues?

“A lot of times, things are right underneath our feet and we don’t even realize it.”

Shelby: On TVs across the country, commercials promise that natural gas will transform our nation’s energy future.

“An American resource that could invigorate our economy and energize America for generations to come.”

Shelby: Natural gas is the second biggest source of energy in the United States. It currently supplies about one-fourth of our nation’s energy, and experts say it is growing fast.

Most of our natural gas is used as electricity. It heats more than half of the homes in the United States. It is also used to fuel fireplaces, heat stoves and dry clothes. Thanks to new technology, natural gas is being used by more drivers too. It costs about one-third less than conventional gasoline, and natural gas-powered cars emit 20-30% fewer greenhouse gasses than regular cars.

“Natural gas is one of the fuels of the future.”

Shelby: So, where does natural gas come from? Experts say there are vast deposits of it right here in the United States, and that is another argument for natural gas. It allows us to reduce our dependence on other countries to supply us with oil.

President Obama even pushed for more natural gas in his State Of the Union address.

How much natural gas do we have in the U.S.?

“There’s at least 100 years supply. At least. Very conservatively speaking. And we’re discovering more and more. So, there’s a lot of natural gas in the U.S.”

Shelby: Dr. Sharma is a professor and a paid consultant for natural gas companies. He says that much of our natural gas has been trapped underground for millions of years, but we could only access limited supplies with traditional drilling. Now, new technology in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is allowing us to tap into those vast reserves.

Fracking works like this:

First, workers drill a well into layers of oil-rich rock. Then, they pump in millions of gallons of fracking fluid made up of water, sand and chemicals. This creates intense pressure, which fractures the rock and frees natural gas for collection.

But back up at the surface, fracking has ignited a fiery debate. After watching these scenes from the documentary Gasland, a film that claims fracking can poison groundwater, other people discovered that they, too, could light their water on fire. We visited a family near Buffalo, New York to see it with our own eyes.

Ok guys, we are here at the Brant’s house and they say there is so much gas in the water that they can light it on fire. So, let’s see if we can do it.

“Sorry, I never get used to that.”

So, you can just light your water on fire anytime?

“Yep, I’ll do it again if you want.”

Shelby: The Brant’s water is flammable because it contains methane, and just like the people in Gasland, the Brants claim that their water was contaminated after a natural gas company drilled a well near their home. And what is worse, they say the drilling has also released harmful chemicals into their water.

“This is from August 16th.”

Shelby: This is from your faucet?

“Yeah. And if you look at this one, this has, like, stuff in oil.”

Shelby: So, have you gotten these things tested to see what else is in it?

“I have an attorney and I know what’s in it. It’s frack fluid.”

Shelby: That is the mix of water, sand and chemicals used in fracking. And the Brants say they had been drinking toxic water for more than a year before they realized something was wrong.

“We started getting sick. I was dizzy. I had headaches. Some days, I couldn’t get up.”

Shelby: Did that ever happen before the drilling started?


Shelby: Some of Joseph’s brothers and sisters had similar symptoms. After they say they found chemicals in their water, the Brants began using bottled water for everything — brushing teeth, washing hands, and even taking showers.

“Even just the little things. You have to do so much now.”

Shelby: The gas company, U.S. Energy, looked at their well and told the Brants that the methane was pre-existing. It had been in their water before the gas well was ever drilled. Government officials tell us they came to the same conclusion, something Dr. Sharma says makes sense.

And U.S. Energy tells us contamination could be a result of problems with the Brants well. But the Brants are not the only people complaining. That is why the federal government is considering new rules for fracking.

“Natural gas seeps happen all over the U.S., particularly in Pennsylvania and New York. This is a natural phenomenon and it has nothing to do with hydraulic fracturing whatsoever.”

Shelby: The EPA says that while methane can be explosive, it is not unsafe to drink in water. But so far, no official has tested the Brant’s water for the chemicals in frack fluid.

So, who is overseeing all of this?

“Actually nobody.”

Shelby: But supporters of the gas industry say more regulation would increase costs, hurt jobs and ultimately keep an important source of energy stuck underground.

“I do think that fracking and horizontal drilling is safe. It’s a very viable technology for extracting energy from the earth.”

Shelby: Across the country, there have been protests against fracking. And some, like the Brants, are suing the gas companies, arguing their water supplies are at risk.

There are also concerns that fracking may even be behind a series of small earthquakes in places like Ohio.

Right now, the Environmental Protection Agency is studying the impact of fracking on drinking water. Initial results are expected by the end of the year.

Shelby Holliday, Channel One News.


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