Community Commentary: There's too much unknown about 'fracking' effects

An essential element of a viable democracy is that its citizens be accurately informed, and that, once informed, they actively participate in the process of decision making. I fully believe that when the people of this nation have the information they need, they will make good choices.

Many are concerned that the process of hydraulic fracturing to obtain natural gas from deep within the earth's surface may be a threat to the purity and availability of our water supply. The question is, should the present method to obtain natural gas be allowed to continue until good information is available to permit the public to make a good choice?

What do we know at this time? We know that natural gas is a much cleaner alternative than coal or oil. We know that the supply of gas available in our nation represents the amount of potential energy equal to the remaining supply of oil in Saudi Arabia's reserves. The largest deposit is in the Marcellus Shale in our eastern states. Other large shale deposits are being explored in Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, in the Four Corners area, and yes, in California. That is the good news.

We also know that a single well uses two million gallons of water a day. About half that water, loaded with chemicals used in the fracking process, comes to the surface. Municipal purification plants can't deal with that much contaminated water, so it is stored in plastic-lined containers. Some of that water leaks back into the earth. It has been documented that those living near those wells are no longer able to use their customary water supply — sometimes the water coming from their faucets can actually be ignited. That is the bad news.

What do we not know? We don't have enough information at this time about how much damage is being done to our water supply. How much of the contamination is going into our streams? The Environmental Protection Agency is doing a study and is supposed to make a preliminary report next year. We don't even know what chemicals are being used in the process.

AB 591, which would require drilling companies to disclose what chemicals they use, is being considered in California, but pressure from energy companies will prevail to kill it unless there is enough public pressure to counteract their influence. If our water supply is affected, will it cure itself if the drilling stops, or is it permanent?

As precious as energy is to us, it pales to the importance of a viable water supply, which is a basic necessity.

The question remains, should hydraulic fracturing be allowed to continue until a clean method of drilling is developed? Should it be stopped until we have assurances that our water supply remains unaffected?

Let your elected representatives know if you think they should take action on this.

JEAN RAUN lives in Laguna Beach.

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