On their latest weekly episode, Public Radio International’s popular show, This American Life, digs deep into the issue of hydraulic fracturing — or fracking as it is commonly referred to. Fracking is a process that removes natural gas from the earth by fracturing rock layers deep underground with high pressure mixtures of water and dangerous chemicals. Opponents say the process irreparably damages drinking water and has a life cycle that is more damaging than that of coal — even though natural gas burns cleaner when used. The issue is surely heating up in the presses these days with New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo reportedly toying with lifting his state’s moratorium on fracking and environmental organizations around the country furiously fighting the spread of fracking from California to New Jersey — where they recently banned fracking. This week’s episode of This American Life lifts the shroud of confusion around the issue of fracking by interviewing those on both sides as well as scientists who helped engineer the process who are now touring the country speaking out against it. Listen to the story after the jump.

The episode is dedicated to dissecting this complex issue and includes in depth interviews from people on all sides of the problem. It focuses mainly on the fracking debate in Pennsylvania and lays out the field of supporters, dissenters and petroleum corporations involved. This American Life Producer Sarah Koenig interviews Terry Engelder, a professor at Pennsylvania State University who first discovered the amount of natural gas trapped in the Marcellus Shale underneath Pennsylvania — which he estimated at 50 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, making it the second largest reserve in the world.

She then talks with University of Pittsburgh professor, Dan Volz, who calculated the amounts of toxic chemicals making their way into water sources in Pennsylvania thanks to natural gas fracking. He found that if natural gas production reached its peak it would be putting 800,000 pounds of chemicals — including strontium and bromium which are linked to cancer and barium which is highly poisonous — into the Monongahela River which runs right through downtown Pittsburgh. The episode continues deep into the debate marking statements by industry executives, college professors and scientist with deep ties to Pennsylvania politics who are pushing fracking forward.

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The story hits its pinnacle when Koenig interviews Tony Ingraffea, a professor at Cornell University and an engineer who helped to invent fracking. He now does speaking tours at universities pointing out the dangers of the current practice. “There’s so much momentum in the gas industry right now to develop shale resources and there’s so much bipartisan support in Washington for it to happen. There is so little resistance to slow it down, to ask these big questions that take a long time to answer,” Ingraffea told This American Life. Listen to the story above to get the full picture on how hydraulic fracturing has managed to move forward without looking into its repercussions and why we should work to try to stop it.

+ This American Life