Are the adverse environmental and health effects of hydraulic fracturing worth the short-term benefits of having a domestic supply of natural gas?
Natural gas is promoted by some as a promising “bridge fuel” that can help the United States transition from petroleum and coal to cleaner, renewable energy. Its production has increased with new drilling methods that use hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” to extract natural gas from rock sources that were previously uneconomical to access, such as shale.
Unfortunately, it’s increasingly clear that the extraction of this “unconventional” gas poses unacceptable risks to the American public.
Unconventional gas production more than doubled between 2000 and 2010, as shale gas increased from 1 to 20 percent of the U.S. natural gas supply. Federal and state regulators largely turned a blind eye to the environmental degradation caused by fracking, and the lack of government oversight facilitated the mad rush to drill. A 2011 Cornell University study found that burning shale gas releases more greenhouse gas pollution than burning conventional gas or oil. Methanol, formaldehyde and carbon disulfide are known air pollutants found near fracking sites. Texas regulators found that air samples near wells contained high levels of neurotoxins and carcinogens such as benzene. Sublette County, a rural Wyoming community with a high concentration of gas wells, has recorded higher ozone levels than Los Angeles.
Some fracking wells have also polluted drinking water. A 2011 Duke University study found potentially explosive levels of methane in water near natural gas wells in New York and Pennsylvania, and the nonprofit group ProPublica identified more than 1,000 cases of water contamination near drilling sites in Colorado, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wyoming.
The shale gas rush is not just a danger to human and environmental health, but also to local economies. While the industry promotes job creation and local investment benefits, it does not acknowledge the long-term economic damage and reduced quality of life caused by fracking.
We need to stop destroying public air quality and water in the interest of oil and gas company profits, and instead seek energy solutions that will provide a renewable energy future. For more information and other fracking resources, go to Food and Water Watch’s The Case for a Ban on Gas Fracking.