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Is Fracking Safe?

The following commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet's guest contributor program, which is separate from the company's news coverage.

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Is fracking environmentally safe?

That's a key question surrounding the fast-growing method of gas and oil extraction -- and one that's triggered debate since the process became more economically viable.

It isn't hard to see where the concerns come from: The fracking process involves injection of fluids -- mostly sandy water, but some chemicals as well -- to bore holes in rock, releasing trapped gas and oil. The fluids are then pumped out of the well, treated and disposed (or possibly, reused). Few take issue with the injected water and sand. But the chemicals have long been a source of contentious debate.

The anti-fracking crowd argues these chemicals -- which many companies have historically not disclosed publicly -- can seep into the ground water, harming the environment and, occasionally, polluting drinking water. The documentary Gasland depicts this starkly -- showing murky and flammable water pouring out of taps into would-be drinkers' glasses. Now, Gasland isn't exactly a scientific review. And more scientific approaches to date haven't supported many of the movie's assertions.

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Industry experts point out frack wells are generally drilled thousands of feet below the water table, making the thesis chemicals leak into ground water unlikely to be broadly true. Not to mention myriad safety measures taken to prevent possible leakage -- like cementing and sealing well walls. But of course, none of that means issues aren't possible.

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