Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Fracking Questions

By Brittany Ryan

Of all environmental issues, hydraulic fracturing is one that I am most concerned with. The process encompasses all angles of environmental and social negligence—from water contamination to regulatory loopholes and prevention of public disclosure. Yet, it continues to grow exponentially, with nuclear plants being dismantled as natural gas conquers the United States energy industry.

Often, arguments of becoming more energy independent and protecting ourselves from potential wars with the Middle East are tossed around to sound like urgent measures to address national security. But almost 40 percent of America’s oil needs come from domestic supply, and another 35 percent is imported from Latin America and Canada. Gas companies continuously make false promises of securing our nation’s energy independence, but they have already submitted 19 proposals to the DOE to export liquefied natural gas. Nonetheless, production rates continue to decline as consumption rates catapult. Studies report that we only have 50 years worth of natural gas, and that’s assuming we are able to extract every possible reserve. Is 50 years worth threatening our resources? Instead of worsening our addiction, efforts should be made to increase efficiency, reduce consumption, and effectively transition to renewable resources.

Other questions largely overlooked should be granted significant attention. A myriad of cases of water contamination has been reported near extraction sites, transforming local residents’ well-water to a murky mixture, unsuitable for drinking or even bathing. Some of the chemicals used to break up the natural gas are the same we find in embalming fluid, gasoline that runs our vehicles, and detergents that wash our clothes. Numerous cases, predominantly in Pennsylvania, of families reporting brain lesions, membrane damage, migraines and the like all were located near a gas-drilling location. Additionally, there has yet to be full disclosure of all the chemicals used in the fluid and this remains unknown because the industry refuses to permit government testing. If the natural gas industry is so confident that fracking fluid poses low risks to human health, EPA testing and public disclosure of the results should not be a problem.

And how are these major oil and gas companies, such as leading supplier Halliburton Co., getting away with all of this? It could be because President Bush signed the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which contained a small provision with an astronomical impact. The component exempted natural gas fluids from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and CERCLA. This waiver is frequently referred to as the “Halliburton Loophole” because former CEO of Halliburton, Vice President Dick Cheney, was a powerful proponent.

Did I mention air pollution, land fragmentation, noise pollution, wastewater displacement, greenhouse emissions and declines in animal populations? The list of environmental and social impacts could go on and on. Relying on such a risky process seems unintelligible, especially when considering the availability of alternative resources. Critics claim wind and solar energy are just not technologically efficient enough and too costly. Yet fracking is efficient and not costly? Each well can use from 50,000 to 10 million gallons of water for the process, meaning these barrels of water are transported by truck, requiring oil, to be contaminated to a point beyond filtration. A valuable and diminishing resource is being wasted for the harmful extraction of a finite resource. The cost of gas-drilling extends far beyond monetary limits; individuals should prioritize human and environmental health over economic gain. What good is cheap energy if we can’t even drink our water?

Furthermore, technology is a catalyst of itself; with increased innovation comes improvement, and that has proven true for all technologies. The first computer ever created was not efficient either, but the world has come a long, long way since then at an exponential rate. Investing in a clean, safe, and environmentally sound technology seems worth the cost to avoid yet another destructive process that destroys the sole entity that keeps us alive – the Earth. 

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