The two points of view above represent both ends of the argument raging over hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the method of extracting oil and gas from shale deposits deep underground that is central to efforts to make the United States energy independent, a goal that long was considered unlikely, if not impossible, to achieve.
However, as with all relatively new technologies, too little is known about the possible negative impacts. Fracking uses millions of gallons of precious water mixed with chemicals that are believed to pose a threat to human health and the environment.
A comprehensive federal study of the effects of fracking on the nation's water supply is under way but won't be completed until 2014. In the meantime, and in the virtual absence of peer-reviewed research, there is a compelling need for a moratorium on new fracking operations and strict federal and state regulation of existing ones.
There is no question that fracking has proven an economic boon, helping drive the price of natural gas to record lows, creating jobs and making the country less reliant on foreign oil imports that cost some $350 billion a year. In fact, the U.S. Energy Information Administration projects that by 2021 the U.S. will be a net exporter of natural gas, which is roughly half as polluting as coal.
But there are public health and environmental concerns that cannot be ignored. Chief among them are the chemicals that, along with water and sand, are blasted into a well shaft, cracking open fissures in shale deposits to release oil and gas. The gas is extracted from the water, and the wastewater is either reused or stored in underground wells.
Fracking raises a broader concern, however. It is that abundant supplies of natural gas, once considered a "bridge" to alternative energy sources, will prolong dependence on the fossil fuels that emit the gases that are overheating the planet.