There is No “Right Way” to Frack
Back in 2012, I reported on the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) receiving $6 million from Bloomberg Philanthropies to advocate for fracking regulations. Therefore, yesterday’s New York Times op-ed by EDF President Fred Krupp and Michael Bloomberg, while jarring, wasn’t much of a surprise.
Claiming there’s a safe way to frack is like claiming there’s a safe way to smoke, or a safe way to shoot whiskey before climbing behind the wheel of a car. When you consider the entire lifecycle of shale development, the notion is even laughable.
But EDF has a long track record of greenwashing controversial practices like fracking, and this piece is no different. But contrary to their assertions, there is no “right way” to develop shale gas. Time and again, defenders of fracking point to potential regulations to combat the air and water pollution that comes with fracking. But these measures miss the point entirely.
Even if we were to completely eliminate the water and air pollution that comes with drilling and fracking for oil and gas, we’d still be stuck with a litany of other problems. Regulations can’t compensate for the industrialization of rural America, the economic boom and bust cycles that accompany shale development or the ways in which it threatens to unravel the social fabric of our communities.
Regulations also can’t anticipate and prevent accidents. Spills and leaks from fracking can contaminate water supplies, risking public health and agriculture. Some 25 percent of the hundreds of chemicals used to frack are linked to cancer; 37 percent disrupt the reproductive system; and 40 to 50 percent can affect the nervous, immune and cardiovascular systems. Will these proposed regulations make these chemicals any safer?
Then there’s the waste produced by fracking, much of which contains radioactive elements that cannot be safely processed. The New York Times found that at least 116 wells in Pennsylvania and West Virginia produced wastewater with radiation levels that were 100 times the U.S. EPA’s drinking water standard. In states like Ohio, which is often used as a dumping ground for waste from fracking operations in other states, communities have begun to fight back. How will these regulations account for fracking waste, and prevent other states from the burdens associated with the industry’s toxic legacy?
Ultimately, as the oil and gas industry, facilitated by groups like EDF, turns its focus to exporting fracked gas in the form of LNG, their claims that fracking will make the U.S. more energy secure seem emptier than ever. Indeed, if the debate over LNG has accomplished anything, it’s to expose the industry’s true motives behind shale development—profits.
Despite claims that LNG will be shipped to Europe as a bargaining chip in the escalating tensions between Ukraine and Russia, the fact remains that most U.S. LNG will be shipped to Asia, where it can fetch a higher price. To add insult to injury, this is likely to cause consumer gas prices here in the U.S. to increase.
Last week, Oil Change International and the Sierra Club released a report that found that between the 2008 and 2012 election cycles, outside spending from the oil and gas industry shot up 11,761 percent. The report also found that contributions go both ways: for every dollar the oil and gas industry spent on influencing policy during the 111th Congress, it received $59 in subsidies.
As controversy over shale development escalates, the oil and gas industry is lobbying harder than ever to maintain its foothold. It knows that public trust in its practices has eroded, and its spin machine is working overtime to assuage these fears. But the die has been cast. The public sees through attempts to reframe fracking in a safer light, and knows that one thing is certain—there is no safe way to frack. Let’s leave the fossil fuels underground and instead facilitate the deployment of truly renewable resources like wind and solar power.