2015 could be a fantastic year for the environmental movement in America.
With the price of oil down significantly, many drilling projects (and possibly the Keystone Pipeline) are no longer economically viable. When oil was over $100 a barrel, the “drill baby drill” mantra made the fossil fuel industry tremendous profits.
Now, with oil prices plummeting more than 50 percent in the past six months, many oil and gas companies are scaling back expansion plans. Moreover, on the heels of New York’s recently announced ban on fracking, 2015 may present a key opportunity for environmentalists who are working to ban fracking.
With that in mind, I offer the following 13 reasons why fracking is a terrible idea:
1) Burning fossil fuels makes climate change worse. For the planet to turn the tide on climate change, we need to stop burning fossil fuels as soon as possible. Particularly, in light of recent studies showing that sea levels are rising faster than we had previously assumed, we should be working to shut down existing fossil fuel infrastructure rather than allowing new fracking wells to be constructed.
2) The chemicals used in fracking contaminate groundwater, causing cancer and other serious diseases. To obtain natural gas and oil that could not be reached by conventional drilling methods, the fracking industry pumps billions of gallons of water into the earth to fracture underground rock formations to release the oil and gas held within them. The fracking fluid is not just water, but contains an assortment of chemicals that assist in the fracturing process. In the documentary Gasland, Josh Fox shows how fracking chemicals end up in drinking water, causing serious harm to the health of people and wildlife that rely on drinking water from sources near fracking wells.
3) We now know that fracking causes earthquakes. Scientists from the University of Miami have determined that fracking caused a series of 77 earthquakes in Ohio during March of last year. In January, the Dallas area experienced 11 earthquakes in two days. While we still don’t entirely understand the link between fracking and earthquakes, the fact the fossil fuel extraction process can literally cause the earth to shake, should make us pause and reconsider whether fracking is something we ought to be doing.
4) Fracking is an incredibly wasteful, inefficient process. One recent study found that a whooping 36 percent of gas extracted from fracking fields in North Dakota ends up burnt off by the industry in a process known as flaring, where gas that cannot be captured by the drilling well is simply burned at the well site. Furthermore, many of the pipelines that carry the natural gas to power plants and cities are old and leaky. In Boston, for example, it is estimated that 2.7 percent of the gas transported through the region’s pipelines escapes into the atmosphere.
5) Fracking uses a huge amount of water. A typical fracking well will use between 2,000,000 and 7,000,000 gallons of water over the course of its lifetime. Water use from fracking can put a strain on water supplies in dry areas, such as Colorado and Texas. A study done in 2011 revealed that more than half of all fracking wells are located in areas of the country that are experiencing draught.
6) The pipelines that carry all the gas to power lines tend to go through environmentally protected forests and other sensitive areas. To avoid the expense and hassle of going through residential and commercial areas, fossil fuel companies choose to construct pipelines through state parks and preserved wildlife areas. To allow workers to dig up the ground to bury the pipelines, large swaths of protected forests are clear cut, causing a problem known as forest fragmentation.
7) Natural gas crowds out investment in renewables. Fracking increases the supply of oil. The more the industry drills, the cheaper oil and gas prices get, as long as demand stays stable or drops. While in some ways the drop in oil prices is a blessing for environmentalists, one of the disadvantages is that cheaper fossil fuels prices “crowd out” investments in solar and other sources of renewable energy.
8) We don’t even know what types of chemicals the fracking industry is pumping into the earth. The oil and gas industry has refused to disclose a complete list of all the chemicals used in the fracking process. A coalition of environmental groups has sued the EPA for public disclosure of all chemicals used during the fracking process.
9) There’s a giant methane cloud the size of Delaware hovering over the southeastern portion of New Mexico. Last year, NASA researchers discovered a giant methane cloud hanging over the dessert in New Mexico. The 40,000 or so fracking wells in the area have leaked so much methane into the atmosphere that the toxic cloud is visible from space. The discovery of the massive methane cloud supports the suspicions of many scientists who surmise that federal regulators are underestimating the total amount of methane fracking emits.
10) It takes 2,000 truck trips to carry al the components needed to build a fracking well and hundreds of additional truck trips over the useful of the well to supply it with fracking fluid. All this truck traffic not only causes more pollution, but takes a tool on rural roads that are not built to withstand all the extra traffic. The additional truck traffic also poses a safety risk, not just for local residents, but for fracking workers. Last month, five oil field workers in Texas died in an accident when their van collided with a crude oil tanker truck.
11) The oil and gas industry rips off its workforce. As recently reported by Pro Publica, fracking companies routinely violate wage and hour law and fail to pay their workers overtime or provide them with benefits. The companies misclassify many of their workers as exempt from federal and state overtime requirements. In addition, oil and gas companies wrongly consider many of their workers to be independent contractors and fail to provide them with health and pension benefits. Fracking workers have filed class action lawsuits seeking unpaid wages, overtime and benefits.
12) The wastewater produced by fracking can be radioactive. When fracking fluid is sent down a well, it sometimes crosses paths with naturally occurring radioactive substances found deep underground. These radioactive materials are then pumped up with the rest of the fracking wastewater, to be treated and eventually dumped into rivers and streams. Fracking wastewater treating facilities, however, are ill-equipped to deal with these radioactive materials. The problem has gotten so bad that several rivers in western Pennsylvania have tested positive for elevated levels of radioactivity.
13) Fracking could mess up our beaches. In my home state of New Jersey, a group of investors seek to build a floating Liquified Natural Gas facility dubbed Port Ambrose. If allowed to be built, pipelines will be constructed on the ocean floor near the beaches of New Jersey and Long Island to transport gas to the floating facility. Although the investors assert that the facility will only be used to import natural gas, this claim that is laughable on its face. The North American continent has plenty of natural gas on its own and does not need to be importing any more.
Many expect that if federal and state regulators allow Port Ambrose to be built, it will be used as an export terminal to load liquefied natural gas onto giant tanker ships bound for Europe and other parts of the world that currently need natural gas. As we learned from the BP oil spill of 2009, fossil fuel accidents are inevitable at sea. If we build pipelines and other infrastructure projects near our beaches, leaks or other disasters are bound to occur.
Right now, the Jersey Shore and the beaches of Long Island are really beautiful. Let’s keep it that way.
Did I leave anything out? Please add your thoughts in the comments below.
Author: Kevin Pflug
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock