The Case for a Ban on Gas Fracking
Over the past decade, there has been a rush for new natural gas across America using a controversial — and often polluting — drilling method. Hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, injects a mixture of water, sand and chemicals under high pressure into dense rock formations — shale, tight sandstone or coal beds — to crack the rock and release natural gas. Fracking has been around for decades, but the techniques, technologies and chemicals used to reach new, remote gas reserves are more intensive and riskier than conventional gas drilling.
The rapid expansion of this new form of fracking has brought rampant environmental and economic problems to rural communities. Accidents and leaks have polluted rivers, streams and drinking water supplies. Regions peppered with drilling rigs have high levels of smog as well as other airborne pollutants, including potential carcinogens. Rural communities face an onslaught of heavy truck traffic — often laden with dangerous chemicals used in drilling — and declining property values. The “bridge fuel” of fracking could well be a bridge to nowhere.
Over the past 18 months, at least 10 studies by scientists, Congress, investigative journalists and public interest groups have documented environmental problems with fracking. Findings include:
- Toxic chemicals present in fracking fluid could cause cancer and other health problems.
- Fracking wastewater contains high levels of radioactivity and other contaminants that wastewater treatment plants have had difficulty removing; this potentially contaminated wastewater can then be discharged into local rivers.
- In Pennsylvania, more than 3,000 gas fracking wells and permitted well sites are located within two miles of 320 day care centers, 67 schools and nine hospitals.
Fracking is exempt from key federal water protections, and federal and state regulators have allowed unchecked expansion of fracking, creating widespread environmental degradation. Overwhelmed state regulators largely oversee the practice. Even if the laws on the books were strengthened, fracking poses too severe a risk to public health and the environment to entrust effective and rigorous regulatory oversight to these officials. Both state and federal regulators have a poor track record of protecting the public from the impacts of fracking. Congress, state legislators and local governmental bodies need to ban shale gas fracking.
The lax regulation and technological advances spurred a fracking gas rush across America that some industry insiders called a “natural gas revolution” and a “game changer.” Energy analysts and oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens bolstered this rush by promoting natural gas as a promising “bridge fuel” for the United States to transition from dirty fossil fuels to clean, renewable sources of energy. However, fracking itself may release enough of the greenhouse gas methane to counterbalance the lower carbon dioxide emissions from burning the natural gas. To safeguard public health and the environment, the federal government should ban shale gas fracking.
- Ban shale gas fracking in the United States.
- Close loopholes that exempt fracking from key federal air and water environmental regulations.
- Aggressively invest in energy efficiency and renewable energy sources that would result in a sustainable energy future for the country.