Public forum explores process, potential hazards of "fracking"

Extra seats had to be placed for the "Fracking 101" public forum Tuesday, in the Memorial Union Preston Family Room. The forum, hosted by the League of Women Voters, was meant to be strictly educational, therefore the presentations were quick and factual.

Director of the Kansas Geological Survey Rex Buchanan explained what hydraulic fracturing, a.k.a. "fracking," was, how the process works, the history behind it, and some concerns that have arisen because of it. He said he's happy that public interest in the subject is high, but it's not his job to sway opinion on the matter one way or another.

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Hydraulic fracturing is a process where a specially-formed fluid is injected into rock formations under very high pressure, to fracture the rock and release trapped resources. The fluid is made up of 98 percent water and sand, and 2 percent other chemicals used as lubricants and stabilizing agents. Those chemicals vary heavily depending on the region and company, and some companies list their ingredients online.

Buchanan says the main concerns with fracking include contamination of freshwater supplies, surface spills (which are most likely), and a potential increase in earthquakes due to the pressure applied to rock formations.

On Monday, Buchanan was appointed to a state task force dedicated to investigating this seismic activity, and look for correlations between fracking and the increase in earthquakes.

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Buchanan says better instrumentation is needed, in order to determine if the earthquakes are natural or man-made. After that, plans can be developed.

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Kansas has been using the hydraulic fracturing technique for 60 years, and a groundwater contamination problem has never been reported in that time. However, Buchanan says that doesn't mean there has never been any contaminations, it just means there's never been any reported.

Jordan Williams, an ESU graduate student in the Earth Science department, said she found the forum very informative, considering she wants to go into the oil and gas field as a career.

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League of Women Voters representative Ann Havenhill said she will consider hosting a debate on the pros and cons of fracking in the future, but first the League will research the topic further before taking a stance on the issue. More information from the seismic task force will be coming in the next few months.


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