Three Colorado cities, Boulder, Lafayette and Fort Collins, passed moratoriums on November 6 putting a stop to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. These are just the latest of more than 100 cities across the United States to implement fracking bans. Advocates say the wins could provide the momentum to launch a national ban on fracking, or at least encourage a statewide ban to reach the Colorado ballot in 2014.
Hydraulic fracturing is a drilling process that's been around since the 1940s. It's credited with first enabling energy companies to tap into supplies of oil and natural gas deep underneath the Earth's surface. Not long after, the oil industry boomed. Companies were created, jobs popped up all over the country and the nation was rich with oil. But the success was short-lived. By the 1990s, oil and gas wells were running dry and the country was on the cusp of an energy crisis.
But despite the dwindling fracking industry, scientists believed the Earth was still ripe with resources. You see, for millions of years organisms in underground shale rock formations decomposed, creating gases that could be harnessed for the generation of energy. However, these resources couldn't be captured by normal fracking technologies.
That's when George Mitchell, known as the father of fracking, starting working on a new drilling process capable of reaching these energy-rich pockets of natural gas. Eventually, he was successful through the creation of a horizontal drilling rig.
His process was widely accepted and again the United States had ample supply of natural resources. The cost of electricity dropped and the economy improved. According to the Dallas Morning News, this horizontal drilling process has added about 1.6 million jobs and will contribute $197 billion to the nation's GDP by 2015.
But fracking is not without its controversy. Environmentalists believe the process could be detrimental to the natural environment. For one, drilling into pockets of natural gas also releases methane, which is not only highly flammable but also extremely harmful to the atmosphere. Methane is 21 times more potent at trapping heat than carbon dioxide, which many believe is largely responsible for climate change.
Another huge factor is the amount of water that fracking contaminates. In order to break through rock and release natural gas, energy companies pump millions of gallons of chemical-laced water into each well. Many believe the hazardous chemical wastewater can seep into drinking water supplies, putting lives at risk.
Contamination risks grew even greater in Colorado this fall. The state experienced flooding in September that swept through some of the densest drilling areas. Oil, gas and chemical wastewater were spread throughout the area. Many believe this incident has played a significant role in these cities' decision to ban fracking.