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Yes, let's frack – with caution

Hydraulic fracturing to release underground natural gas could be a 'game changer' for US energy supplies. But not if it comes with too high an environmental cost.

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Those who’d like to see the United States tap more of its natural gas reserves just hit a yellow “caution” light. It reads “Frack with caution.”

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a promising technology that injects a mixture of water, sand, and chemicals underground to fracture rock and release shale gas previously thought unretrievable.

If fracking can be done safely, it could be a “game changer,” as one oil industry chief executive said recently – a major source of domestic energy over the next century. Shale gas makes up about 14 percent of the US natural gas supply today but is expected to reach 45 percent by 2035, the US Energy Information Administration says.

But first, serious environmental concerns must be addressed. Earlier this year, a Duke University study of 68 private ground water wells in Pennsylvania and New York state found evidence that shale-gas extraction has caused them to become contaminated with methane.

Now a US Energy Department advisory panel has released another report on fracking. Along with water quality it adds a number of other concerns, including the possibility of air pollution.

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