Voters in three Colorado cities and one in Ohio passed ballot measures this week banning or temporarily halting fracking within their borders. Another Colorado suburb rejected the moratorium by just 13 votes. (National Geographic News)
- “Fracking” is the nickname for the process of hydraulic fracturing. Watch our “media spotlight” video on “How Hydraulic Fracturing Works.” What is being fractured in the fracking process? What is doing the fracturing?
- Layers of rock called shale and sandstone are being fractured in the process. These layers, more than a mile beneath the Earth’s surface, hold “tight oil” or “tight gas,” fossil fuels trapped in the rock formation.
- Water and other chemicals fracture the rock formations. This water is pumped at extremely high pressure and exposes existing cracks in the rock.
- Why do some communities, such as Boulder and Fort Collins, Colorado, oppose fracking?
- When “tight oil” or “tight gas” is released by fracking, the water and drilling fluids used to extract it are also released. Drilling fluids contain toxic chemicals. These toxic materials are buried in disposal wells beneath groundwater supplies. Many opponents of fracking say the chemicals may leak into groundwater, poisoning it. The famous videos of “flaming faucets” (water being lit on fire) are probably the most familiar example cited by fracking opponents.
- Pockets of methane can cause gas explosions, posing serious threats to residential communities.
- Fracking is a process to extract fossil fuels, and may opponents simply prefer to invest in alternative energy technologies. “This is the point in history where communities need to decide if they want to stay addicted to hydrocarbons and fossil fuels or move toward sustainable energy,” says one fracking opponent in the Nat Geo News article.
- Why do some communities, such as Broomfield, Colorado, or Youngstown, Ohio, support fracking?
- Fracking allows companies to access oil and gas that cannot be extracted through traditional drilling methods. This increases the domestic supply of fossil fuels, reducing American dependence on foreign imports.
- The oil and gas industry is a big one—fracking provides a lot of high-paying, decent jobs. One fracking supporter quoted in the Nat Geo News article says he was happy that Youngstown voted down a fracking ban: Youngstown is a part of the American “Rust Belt,” where the industrial economy has collapsed and left many residents jobless and in poverty.
- According the Nat Geo News article, supporters of fracking (including Colorado’s governor and the oil and gas industries) are not concerned about the fracking bans enacted by voters this week. Why not?
- The communities that banned fracking have little or no oil and gas production. The bans are largely symbolic.
- In Ohio, the state decides on drilling procedures—not individual municipalities.
- In Colorado, the governor has appealed to the state courts to overrule the fracking bans. (The court has not made a decision.)