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Professor breaks down the myths, costs, and benefits of fracking

Daniel Raimi headshot
Daniel Raimi
Daniel Raimi, author of “The Fracking Debate: The Risks, Benefits, and Uncertainties of the Shale Revolution.” ";s:


Michigan has used methods of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for decades. The national debate over the use of fracking began only ten to fifteen years ago when companies began drilling down and across. 

Now companies can drill deposits one to three miles wide.

Author and University of Michigan Professor Daniel Raimi discusses the nuances and misconceptions of fracking in his new book “The Fracking Debate: The Risks, Benefits, and Uncertainties of the Shale Revolution.”

Fracking is the process of pumping high pressured fluid into rock formations in order to create fractures for oil and gas to move through. The fluid is typically composed of 95 to 98 percent water and five to two percent sand and chemicals.

Raimi said these chemicals are often controversial because not all of them are disclosed. The original fracking treatments performed in Kanas and Oklahoma used chemicals like gasoline and napalm. 

“The concern is that some of these chemicals that are injected deep underground might find a way to migrate towards the surface and getting in people's drinking water," Raimi said. "However, we have really seen very little evidence of that around the country.”

There are other risks to fracking but according to Raimi, there are only one or two cases in the United States where those chemicals in the mixture negatively affected the groundwater supply. 

To manage the fracking fluid and water that does make its way to the surface, companies inject them deep underground to wastewater disposal wells, moving them from one well to another. Raimi said these injections are highly regulated. 

These regulations do not come from the federal level.

"State governments have a variety of regulations that they apply to the oil and gas industry, including what types of steel they need to use, what types of cement they need to use, and a variety of other regulations.” 

The U.S. has begun transitioning many coal plants to natural gas plants, which have lower CO2 emissions. But that does not mean natural gas plants or fracking for natural gas is necessarily "green." Natural gas plants create methane gas, which is by itself a powerful greenhouse gas. 

According to Raimi, there are currently more than 2 million miles of natural gas pipelines in the United States and tens or hundreds of thousands of natural gas wells. Any of those locations could potentially leak methane gas.

*Correction: An earlier version of this story said that there were more than 200 million miles of natural gas pipelines in the United States. That is incorrect. There are actually 2 million miles of natural gas pipelines. The story has been corrected above. 

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