According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) extracts pockets of natural gas far beneath the earth’s surface via a process called directional drilling,

which involves steering a downhole drill bit in a direction other than vertical. An initially vertical drillhole is slowly turned 90 degrees to penetrate long horizontal distances, sometimes over a mile, through the Marcellus Shale bedrock. Hydraulic fractures are then created into the rock at intervals from the horizontal section of the borehole, allowing a substantial number of high-permeability pathways to contact a large volume of rock.

(See the map at the USGS site for the area covered by the Marcellus Shale. Fracking can be done anywhere, but the Marcellus Shale is one of the most actively targeted areas.)

The water is injected and comes back out as a toxic stew:

Along with the introduced chemicals, hydrofrac water is in close contact with the rock during the course of the stimulation treatment, and when recovered may contain a variety of formation materials, including brines, heavy metals, radionuclides, and organics that can make wastewater treatment difficult and expensive. The formation brines often contain relatively high concentrations of sodium, chloride, bromide, and other inorganic constituents, such as arsenic, barium, other heavy metals, and radionuclides that significantly exceed drinking water standards (Harper, 2008).

There are substantial hurdles associated with importing the frack water and then safely disposing of the resulting liquid Superfund waste (euphemistically termed “brine”). But there is perhaps an even more insidious hazard created by fracking. Think about it: A pocket of natural gas is deep underground. The surrounding area gets drilled, flooded with water, and then all of it – dislodged rock, water, gas – is removed.

What’s left? Nothing. A whole lot of nothing, with a lot of earth pressing down on it. What will that produce? Earthquakes. And people have started to notice. So in addition to the unbelievably dirty extraction, it literally leaves holes in the earth – holes which do not get filled in gracefully. At least not by human standards.

The entire process is so risky and damaging that insurers have started to ask questions (via). According to Jaime L. Brockway of Insurance & Financial Advisor, “an insurer may cancel or discontinue a policy if the consumer concealed information needed to determine risk, or if there was an increase in risk after the policy was issued. ‘Some carriers have started canceling policies for increasing hazard,’ [Claire] Pantaloni[, industry affairs director for Insurance Agents & Brokers,] told IFA.” (via)

A fracking protest has been organized by Food & Water Watch for tomorrow. (Here in my neck of the woods the groups No Frack Ohio and NEOGAP have partnered with them; environmental groups everywhere are doing so as well, so you might be able to find a local group to coordinate with.) Anyone who supports a halt to this environmentally harmful activity is urged to call the White House comment line (866-582-4813) from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. EST and ask the president to publicly and energetically support a fracking ban.

Please note: You do not have to take an angry or confronational tone. This is not about peering into the president’s soul or trying to guess at what he, in his heart of hearts, really thinks about the issue. It is about petitioning for an environmentally friendly policy, and signalling to not just the White House but all of Washington that not just industry lobbyists are interested in the issue. Building and sustaining a green message helps create the room for politicians to comfortably move in that direction.

So if you were upset about the recent changes to smog rules or if you were making your voice heard in opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline, here is another opportunity to send a message. Tuesday, September 13th, 866-582-4813, from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. EST. Get at it. Keep at it.