Fracking. The use of hydraulic fracturing to increase the yield of natural gas from deep wells in shale formations. It's a big issue here in the Northeast right now. Lots of communities in the Hudson Valley are trying to pass moratoriums on fracking in the area where I live as a preemptive measure.
I have to admit, fracking is one of those environmental issues I hate. It's polarizing ("Are you for or against fracking?"). It's tied up with big money which turns some people into amoral greedy pigs ("Twenty thousand bucks for my children's drinking water? Sold!"). It's politicized (Are politicians, who are generally lawyers and business people, the best ones to make decisions about scientific issues?). It's emotionalized ("Won't somebody please think of the children?").
I love geology. I love the environment. I drink water out of a backyard well that taps into an aquifer. I also love having a car and a warm house and electricity and my computer. Those all require energy.
The real problem with issues like fracking is that I can see both sides of the issue and the nuances that exist. This is in contrast to the large number of people who want to treat it as a completely black or white issue. People on both sides of the issue "exaggerate" (to be charitable) when making certain claims. People on both sides of the issue also act to demonize their opponents.
Our society requires Earth materials that need to be mined and drilled for, refined, manufactured, and shipped. All of that results in some degree of environmental degradation. It's always a balancing act and there's no easy answer. I certainly have no answers (quite frankly, I think nuclear might be the way to go since so much of the "alternative" energy sources are in no way able to replace our current system of hydrocarbon-based energy generation). I would oppose a fracking operation near my house. I also benefit from natural gas energy. Like everyone else, I'm a fracking hypocrite.
As a geologist, fracking and environmental contamination is not all that intellectually interesting to me. It's an engineering problem. Far more interesting to me is why there's natural gas in the Marcellus Shale. How did it form? In what environment was the shale deposited? Real geology questions.
Tomorrow I'll talk about the Marcellus Shale but will ignore fracking.