We've heard good things and bad things about the method of extracting natural gas from shale that's known as "fracking."
Fracking not only uses chemicals that can contaminate drinking and groundwater, it also releases large amounts of natural radioactivity from the ground into the air, ¬including Radium-226, which has a half-life of 1,600 years.
On the Nation of Change website, Karl Grossman quotes radiation expert E. Ivan White as saying, "Horizontal hydrofracking for natural gas has the potential to result in the production of large amounts of waste materials containing Radium-226 and Radium-228 in both solid and liquid mediums." (This type of radioactive material) " is particularly long-lived, and could easily bio-accumulate over time and deliver a dangerous radiation dose to potentially millions of people long after the drilling is over."
White is reporting on a field of shale in Michigan, but a vast field of methane--the main ingredient of natural gas-- has also recently been discovered in Alaska ice. This may be our next big energy source, if we can build a pipeline to bring it to the rest of us efficiently. We have plenty of gas right now, thanks to fracking, but as Dan Joling quotes energy researcher Ray Boswell as saying, in Bloomberg Business Week, "If you wait until you need it, and then you have 20 years of research to do, that's not a good plan."
Meanwhile, White cautions: "Radioactivity in the environment, especially the presence of the known carcinogen radium, poses a potentially significant threat to human health. Therefore, any activity that has the potential to increase that exposure must be carefully analyzed prior to its commencement so that the risks can be fully understood."
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