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Hydro-fracking and the Environment

Monday, October 1, 2012
posted by Douglas Keene

Few things are as frightening to us as the idea that our drinking water is contaminated. But this fear is a cornerstone of the debate as to whether hydro-fracking is the answer to our need for energy self-reliance or the slippery slope to contaminated drinking water and health declines for those living around hydro-fracking areas.

Hydraulic fracking [aka hydro-fracking] is a technique of recovering natural gas from underground geological formations that would otherwise not be sufficiently productive to be economical. By injecting fluids (water and chemicals) under high pressure into the gas well, fractures in the rock develop. After the injection procedure is complete, a successful hydraullic fracking procedure (also commonly referred to as “hydraulic fracturing”, “hydro-fracking”, “fracking” or “fracing”) results in higher rates of gas flow into the bore hole, and a more productive well.

It is unquestionably a very successful procedure for increasing well production, and one that has become heavily utilized in recent years. Since this technique has been employed, public concern over environmental impact on drinking water has skyrocketed in the gas field areas. Some local water supplies have developed a terrible taste. Others carry chemical concentrations in ground water that had not been previously noted.

The debate around hydro-fracking and the potential for ground water contamination as well as possible health impact is emotionally powerful. Proponents say fracking is misunderstood and it is a safe technique for accessing deeply buried energy resources. Opponents say we need to know more about the impact and that any risk to health and groundwater safety is too high.

We have a paper in the just released issue of The Jury Expert on hydro-fracking and the environment. In this paper, we generally describe typical arguments by both Plaintiffs and Defendants, but we will not attempt to weigh the scientific evidence that is typically presented in these toxic tort actions. Instead, we will focus attention on jurors, and the related concerns that litigants are going to face from jurors before the first word is spoken.

We use random surveys of registered voters, likely voters and citizens of various states to illustrate varying and similar attitudes in states where hydro-fracking is actively being done, actively being considered, or where it will likely not be done. We first looked at this topic about a year ago and little was publicly available. Now, the information available has exponentially increased as media attention has begun to carefully scrutinize the safety and environmental impact of the practice.

Take a look at our article and let us know what you think of it.

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