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Fracking isshort for hydraulic-fracturing, a relatively new method of natural gasextraction. In almost all cases when you hear about fracking today, you’rehearing about a new method of it called high-volume slick-water horizontalfracking. It’s a process used to extract natural gas from shale deposits –shale being a type of rock - deep underground. Using New York State as theexample, natural gas companies want to extract gas from the Marcellus and Uticashale deposits. The shale they want to access in NY is mostly 1-2 milesunderground. With the shale deep underground, indeed attached to the shale soto speak, are little bubbles of methane. Methane is natural gas. Let me explainhow the horizontal fracking process works. First, a gas company clears a well pad, generally a coupleof acres, where they set up the drill rig. Over the course of a month, theydrill down over a mile, and then are able to turn the drill head 90 degrees anddrill out horizontally up to a mile. As they’re drilling the well, they put ina number of cement casings, which are supposed to prevent contamination of thegroundwater. Once the drilling is complete, the fracking begins. At extremelyhigh pressure, they blast – as in explode - 2-9 million gallons of water mixedwith sand and over 500 chemicals down the well. This fractures the shale deepunderground, which frees up the methane. Each frack pad contains between oneand twelve frack wells.
One of thebiggest issues with fracking is water contamination. Those 500+ chemicals arevery dangerous. Of the 2-9 million gallons injected, 99.5% is water. The .5percent may not sound bad, but when we do the math we see that this equates tobetween 10 and 45 thousand gallons of chemicals per well. They include knowncarcinogens like benzene and toluene, many endocrine disrupters, as well asmore recognizable chemicals like mercury and diesel. Even very small amounts ofthese chemicals can contaminate enormous bodies of water. There are over athousand known cases of water contamination from fracking, including hundredswhere people can light their water on fire. Groundwater contamination occurs because the cement wellcasings fail – cracks develop under the high pressure of fracking – and fromchemicals and methane migrating up on the outside of the outer-most casinglayer. Surface water contamination is common from spills, blowouts, leaks,dumping of wastewater, etc. In 2008 for example, the city of Pittsburgh toldresidents to drink bottled water for 3 weeks due to water contamination fromfracking operations.
How do they get away with this?
In the last10 years, the gas industry has spent $747 million in lobbying and campaigndonations at the federal level. In doing so they have gotten exemptions fromour most basic environmental protections, including the clean drinking wateract, the clean air act, the clean water act, and the superfund act. Forexample, as I’ve pointed out the chemicals used in the fracking operation areclearly hazardous chemicals. Normally, such chemicals have careful regulation,tracking, permitting, etc. For the gas industry, as soon as those chemicalsenter into their development, they lose their hazardous classification. Whenit’s in the lab, benzene is hazardous. When it’s 100 feet out your backyard ina fracking operation, it’s classified the same as construction debris, the sameas a 2 by 4.
Further, thegas industry has an enormous legal team, and they fight long legal battles withlandowners who claim water contamination. Inevitably, they force landowners tosettle, and with the settlements they make landowners sign “non-disclosureagreements,” which is akin to being legally silenced such that the landownercan never talk about water contamination and the EPA can never investigate it. For their part, the EPA has documentedwater contamination from fracking in Pavillion, WY, and is investigating it ina high-profile case in Dimock, PA.
Much of thewater that comes back up from the fracking operation, as well as the gasitself, is laced with high levels of radiation. The shale itself is naturallyradioactive, with high levels of radium, uranium, radon, and other radioactivecomponents. Dangerous levels of radiation have been documented from this in PAand NY streams, as no treatment plants that the industry puts their wastewaterthrough can treat for radiation and a host of other dangerous chemicals used inthe fracking process.
Havingfracking in your community drastically changes where you live. The fracking operationitself is dangerous industrial activity, which ends up literally in yourbackyard rather than zoned away from residential areas like most industrialpractices. It’s extremely loud, it smells, and it’s bright at night. Each frackrequires over 1,000 round-trip industrial truck trips over the course of onemonth, destroying local roads and creating traffic hazards. Many folks in PAreport their regular 30 minute commutes now taking over 2 hours because of thetruck traffic. There is also always a steep crime increase directly associatedwith fracking, such as rape, battery, and DUIs. The gas industry tends to bringin transient workers who are on performance enhancers.
Air pollution, health:
Obviouslywater contamination leads to terrifying health problems, as it has in manycommunities. There are also significant health problems relating to airpollution. For example, in rural Wyoming, in 5-10 years of frackingdevelopment, the air quality went from pristine mountain air to air worse thandowntown LA on a bad day. Airpollutants include volatile organic compounds, sulfur dioxide, methane gas,well-head benzene, etc. These provide a risk of cancer and increase the numberand severity of asthma cases, respiratory illnesses, and a host of other healthissues. One example is a New Centers for Disease Control study released inAugust 2011. This found that breast cancer rates dropped in every county inTexas except the six counties with the heaviest natural gas production airemissions, where rates exploded.
The frackingoperation itself devastates the environment, from the clearing of well-pads,creation of access roads and pipelines, the fragmentation of land, etc. It isalso disastrous for the climate. One rationale for fracking and natural gastends to be that it burns cleaner than coal or oil, releasing less carbondioxide into the atmosphere and thus it is a transition fuel. This is a veryfaulty argument. Although natural gas does burn cleaner than coal and oil, theentire life-cycle in fact makes it worse for the climate than coal. Theextraction and transportation process leaks a tremendous amount of methane intothe atmosphere. Methane is a particularly heavy, dense greenhouse gas, that is25 times more potent in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. Studies by NOAA,NCAR, the International Energy Administration, and many leading researchersshow that natural gas is worse for the climate than coal. It is neither cleannor a transition fuel.
Domestic (Patriotic) Fuel Source:
Natural Gasis hailed as an abundant source of domestic energy, that it will get us off offoreign oil. Many have said that there is a 100 years supply of natural gasunderneath our own soil. This estimate is based off industry speculation thatis motivated by painting a rosy picture for investors. The reality is that wedon’t have nearly that much gas. The federal agency in charge of this, the EnergyInformation Administration released an updated estimate this January indicatingthat America has not more than a 20 years supply of natural gas, and that’s atcurrent consumption rates, not at the increased rates that many are pushingfor. The US Geological Survey in 2011 put the estimate at even less.
The #1argument for fracking is that it provides jobs and revenue. These are vastlyoverstated for the sake of influencing politicians and running a PR campaign.The gas industry wants public and political support, and the best way to getthat is to claim that they’re going to create huge numbers of jobs and economicgain. Here’s the scenario in PA. They’ve been fracking in PA for 4 years now,close to 5,000 wells. The industry claims that in doing so they’ve created over48,000 jobs, which in fact is far fewer than they initially promised. But that number is far from true. Anindependent research center, the Keystone Research Center, studied this to comeup with a real number. They found that the gas industry actually created fewerthan 6,000 jobs. What happens, is the industry uses “new hires” in their count.That means that on Tuesday, if they hire two people, they say they created twonew jobs. However, if they also fire two people on Tuesday, as is common in thegas industry, they still claim 2 jobs since there were 2 new hires, even thoughthe net number of jobs is 0. Additionally, over 70% of those jobs have gone toout-of-state workers, as it’s the people in KY, TX, TN, OK who know how to frack,so they bring them up and the money they make gets sent back to their familiesin their native states. Not a good deal for PA. At the same time, the KeystoneResearch Center points out that with the 6,000 jobs, many jobs were likely lostin other industries negatively affected such as agriculture and tourism.
That bringsup the reality of the economics, which is that fracking is bad for the economy.It’s a boom and bust cycle that spells disaster for most economies that arebuilt on generations of local businesses, agriculture, tourism, etc. Forexample, take the winery industry. In NY, the wine industry is a $6 billionindustry that brings in over 5 million tourists each year. Who wants to go on awine trail in the finger lakes surrounded by industrial fracking operations,and who wants to buy wine made with potentially contaminated water and grapes grownin polluted air? Over half of NY wineries have called on Governor Cuomo to ban fracking.The same applies to agriculture, small businesses, tourist-oriented businesses,etc. Additionally, fracking leadsto precipitous drops in real estate values and threatens to undermine mortgagesand property insurance.
ExcellentYouTube Video: Fracking Hell: The Untold Story