We can not address climate change without putting an immediate end to fracking.
That declaration is the overarching message of a report published Tuesday, just days ahead of the People's Climate March and the UN Climate Summit in New York City. Put forth by the environmental watchdog Food & Water Watch, The Urgent Case for a Ban on Fracking tackles head-on the host of dangerous environmental effects caused by shale gas extraction—which politicians, industry stakeholders and even some environmental groups have billed as a "bridge fuel" to a renewable energy future.
Reviewing the most comprehensive scientific research related to fracking, the report details the harmful impacts the practice has on climate, water, air and communities. Fracking—which extracts oil and natural gas by injecting large volumes of water, sand and toxic chemicals deep underground—has been linked to earthquakes, groundwater contamination, birth defects and health issues.
Further, research has found that shale drilling has the potential to unleash massive amounts of methane gas, which is said to be even more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide, thus exacerbating and accelerating the climate crisis.
"Gas wells are like chimneys in the earth, and what they leak goes straight into our atmosphere," said Dr. Sandra Steingraber, professor at Ithaca College and science advisor to Americans Against Fracking, a coalition of environmental groups which includes Food & Water Watch, 350.org and the Center for Biological Diversity, among others. Coinciding with the release of the report as well as the climate march, the group has launched a social media campaign under the hashtag #DontFrackOurClimate to pressure lawmakers into enacting a national fracking ban.
"Climate change is the challenge of our lifetimes, and millions of lives and future generations depend on us meeting that challenge," said actor Mark Ruffalo, who sits on the Americans Against Fracking advisory board, on a press call announcing the anti-fracking campaign. "It’s past time for President Obama to abandon his disastrous ‘all-of-the-above’ energy plan and instead provide real leadership by boldly investing in renewable energy and making the United States the renewable energy capital of the world."
"If President Obama wants to be a leader in curbing the global climate crisis, he can’t continue to ignore the climate-related effects of methane from fracked gas," added Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, which in 2011 was one of the first organizations to call for a complete ban on the drilling practice.
"The natural gas obtained by fracking is no more a bridge to renewable energy than swapping push buttons for rotary dials was a bridge to a WiFi connection."
—Dr. Sandra Steingraber
The Food & Water Watch report cites the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which estimates that methane from drilling and fracking will trap 87 times more heat than carbon dioxide in a 20-year time frame.
"The industry has successfully spun fracking as good for the climate, but the science shows it’s anything but," said Hauter. The report also calls into question the "favored status under the law" granted to the fossil fuel industry, which the report authors say has created an "inertia that imperils current and future generations, and endangers our economy, as we face the consequences of global warming and the legacy of the industry’s pollution."
The industry line, which has successfully been adopted by politicians and others, is that natural gas can be a "bridge fuel" between coal and more renewable options down the road. However, as Steingraber explains in a piece published on Wednesday, "the natural gas obtained by fracking is no more a bridge to renewable energy than swapping push buttons for rotary dials was a bridge to a WiFi connection."
By leaking untold amounts of heat-trapping methane into the atmosphere, she adds that we are "crippling any fighting chance we have to address climate in the critical short window ahead of us."
Going forward, the report calls for: a complete ban on fracking; an end to subsidies for the oil and gas industry; aggressive energy conversation policies; and sweeping investments and incentives for existing renewable energy solutions, as well as for developing the next generation of clean energy solutions.