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A stark choice: renewables or domestic fossil fuels?

Europe’s energy mix faces two major challenges: On the one hand, the climate challenge requires a move towards low-carbon energy sources. On the other hand, recent concerns about Europe’s energy security have increased interest in the development of domestic supplies of energy.

This has led the EU to promote renewable energy sources and energy efficiency. Unfortunately, it has also sparked interest in the development of domestic supplies of fossil fuels and shale gas in particular. Looking at the US, booming shale gas development has reduced the American need for imports of natural gas. In European discussions on energy security, shale gas is often presented as a game changer.

Fracking wastes and pollutes water

However, a whole range of environmental problems have been identified with shale gas development in the US. Extracting shale gas requires a technique, known as fracking. Fracking involves pumping millions of liters of fracking fluid, i.e. water mixed with sand into a well in order to create cracks in shale formations, which then allows the gas to escape from these impermeable rock formations. A wide range of chemical additives (1-2% of the total volume) are added to this fracking fluid in order to improve the operation of the well.

  • A first environmental problem is the water-intensity of fracking operations: Large-scale development of shale gas can lead to a shortage of water.
  • Secondly, a number of the chemicals used in the fracking fluid are toxic: Some are known carcinogens, others can affect the skin, eyes, the respiratory and gastrointestinal systems, the brain/nervous system, and so on.
  • Thirdly, fracking fluids can pollute underground aquifers as a result of the fissures created by the fracking process or errors in the construction of the well. Apart from the water-related problems, there are a whole host of other environmental problems related to the practice of fracking: traffic congestion, noise, airborne pollution as well as greenhouse gas emissions.

Food & Water Europe wants a ban on fracking.

Several constituencies such as France, Bulgaria and some Swiss and German states have already adopted a ban or a moratorium on fracking activities. Other European union Member States, such as the Czech Republic, Romania and Germany are considering a moratorium on fracking until an adequate regulatory framework has been is in place for unconventional energy projects such as shale gas. However, these polluting shale gas developments are going ahead in other countries, such as Poland, Ireland and the United Kingdom.

Food & Water Europe calls for an EU-wide ban on shale gas development. The EU should also conduct an in-depth analysis whether its current environmental legislation appropriately regulates the shale gas industry and its activities. Rather than pursuing shale gas, Food & Water Europe wants the EU and its Member States to pursue a sustainable energy future by aggressively investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy sources.

In April 2012, Food & Water Europe issued a joint statement with other civil society actors from across Europe, which states that unconventional gas development should not be allowed to proceed in the European Union.

In June 2012, we gathered in Rio de Janeiro with other organizations and activists during the Peoples’ Summit at Rio+20 to fight fracking. Read our coalition’s statement.

As the global mobilization gathered pace, Food & Water Watch initiated a global day of action against fracking, named the Global Frackdown. The response was overwhelming. More than 150 actions in 20 countries were organized to call for a ban on fracking and unconventional oil and gas.