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Published: Saturday, 4/16/2011

Fracking fears

Several states — notably Pennsylvania, New York, and Arkansas — are having big problems with a method of drilling for natural gas called hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” Their experiences provide more reasons that Ohio should abandon plans to permit oil and gas drilling on public lands. 

Consequences of fracking and horizontal drilling include earthquakes, groundwater contamination, and lax government regulation. Some states are suspending shale-drilling projects until they can review the range of potential risks to public health.

Officials in Arkansas linked a recent spate of tremors to fracking. Injecting large amounts of water that includes toxic chemicals into compacted layers of shale to break it up and release natural gas just begins the possible risks.

In Arkansas, drillers disposed of wastewater in injection wells, pumping salt water into the ground. Geologists suspect that practice led to significantly higher seismic activity near the wells. A cessation of drilling appears to have stabilized conditions.

Gallons of water contaminated by the drilling process flow back to the surface. The water is full of pollutants that, in Pennsylvania, caused leaks and spills of toxic fluids. They could seep into aquifers and spoil them for years. Pennsylvania’s problems were compounded by a failure to monitor fracking adequately.

New York has imposed a moratorium on fracking while state regulators investigate safety concerns. Ohio could reasonably pursue a similar course.

At the very least, officials here can learn enough from other states’ painful experiences with fracking to conclude that the procedure has no place in state parks, nature preserves, and hunting areas, or on other public lands.

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