It's difficult to find scientists who have not lined up on one side or another on hydraulic fracking for oil and natural gas. The anti-fracking groups have their scientific talking points, and the pro-fracking groups have their counterclaims. Some of the scientists who have put out pro-fracking reports have turned out to be tied to the industry. When even the federal panel formed to study the issue isstacked with industry supporters, it's hard for environmentalists and health advocates to believe its conclusions.
"Cutting through the 'noise' for the average citizen in indeed extremely difficult," said Peter Collings, a physics professor at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, who has lectured about fracking. The truth about fracking, he said in an e-mail interview, lies "somewhere in between" what the regulation-hating gas industry tells the public and what the environmentalists claim.
"Fracking can be done in a way that safeguards subsurface water and surface lands and wildlife, prevents a good deal of the release of methane to the atmosphere, etc., but it is expensive and lessens profits," Collings said. "I think it is safe to say that industry has not chosen to go this route, so the anti-fracking movement has a legitimate cause, because the environmental impact of fracking is real and preventable."
To help cut through the claims and counterclaims, here are a few of the issues debated in the scientific discussion about fracking.