Fracking. For something so obviously pun-worthy, it’s a pretty serious issue. Hydraulic fracturing, a means of collecting otherwise inaccessible natural gas, is extremely controversial. It’s as potentially lucrative as it is environmentally risky. And it could be coming to our campus’ backyard.

The Environmental Protection Agency is in the midst of a $1.9 million study (scheduled for a 2012 release) showing the effects of fracking on the water table and ecosystem at large. The EPA even made a stop in Binghamton last week to get public input on its study.

Why should the EPA be worried? For starters, even a brief description of hydrofracturing is well, worrying. According to Tuesday’s issue of Pipe Dream, the process of fracking ‘involves injecting a pressurized mixture of water and specialized chemicals into underground layers of rock and forcing out natural gas that is encased within the shale.’

Shooting up to five million gallons of water per well mixed with chemicals (85 different ones, actually, are used in Pennsylvania) as deep into the ground as 8,000 feet below the surface to collect fossil fuels?

Yeah, in layman’s terms, it’s terrifying. We don’t like the idea of ammonia persulfate, formaldehyde or polyethoxylated alkanol (2) in the Susquehanna River, let alone our drinking water.

Proponents, though, avow that the risk for environmental contamination is negligible and the economic upshot is immense.

The Southern Tier is sitting on the largest natural gas reserve in the United States, embedded in a layer of shale. The Marcellus Shale, which stretches from West Virginia up to the Catskills, holds 50 times the gas that is used by the East Coast annually. It’s huge. Through fracking, this reserve would produce cheap American-made energy ‘ and create jobs in places that really need them (like Broome County, for instance).

The back-and-forth between the pros and cons in the fracking debate is essentially a shouting match of superlatives.

‘We’re all gonna be rich,’ one side shouts.

‘We’re all gonna die,’ reminds the other.

We tend to support a skeptical approach to the issue.

We’re skeptical of eco-crazies, who would willingly sacrifice economic opportunity on merely the principle that drilling for natural gas is evil.

We’re even more skeptical of energy tycoons, who deny even the slightest risk in their conceivably toxic business in the pursuit of another dollar.

We’re even skeptical of the EPA, who have spent more than enough time in bed with those same tycoons. The agency’s 2004 study into fracking was shaky at best, and downright corrupt at worst, and 2012’s may not be better. The $1.9 million the EPA is spending seems somewhat skimpy for a nationwide, imperative investigation. And according to The New York Times, this study’s investigative panel is filled out with the same oil company officials that scuttled the first effort.

Despite this, the only thing to do is wait ‘ at least for the EPA’s 2012 study’s release date. We can not, in good conscience, and in a post-BP world, support fracking in the Binghamton area before the EPA has had another say on the issue. We can only pray for transparency. We also support, hand in hand with environmental investigation, a thorough economic forecast on how individuals who live in the area, especially on the land where the fracking will take place, will benefit from this natural gas production. Energy conglomerates can’t be the only people to make money on this.

So, we wait. We’ll support safe drilling, if it’s proven to be so.