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An anti-fracking demonstration outside New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's office in 2015. (Photo: CREDO.fracking/flickr/cc)

Bernie Sanders is Right—Regulation Isn’t Enough, We Need to Ban Fracking

Deborah Burger

Hillary Clinton promises to regulate hydraulic fracturing. Yet even if she were to keep this promise, it simply doesn’t go far enough.

Fracking poses an immediate threat to the health of our communities and our environment but, most critically, it threatens our very existence by exacerbating the climate crisis. There is only one solution, that proposed by Bernie Sanders - leave it in the ground. Sanders’ unequivocal ban on fracking, coupled with a just transition to clean and renewable energy, is what this country needs.

As Secretary of State, Clinton endorsed the increased extraction, use, and export of gas and personally advocated for these policies in her discussions with world leaders.

During her tenure there, the State Department worked with large U.S. oil and gas companies to launch the Global Shale Gas Initiative which encouraged countries to reduce regulations and implement legislation that was favorable to fracking. Given her connections with the fossil fuel industry and its millions in contributions, we can expect her to promote such policies in the U.S. And this means increased injury, illness, disease, and death.

"Sanders’ unequivocal ban on fracking, coupled with a just transition to clean and renewable energy, is what this country needs."

The health problems caused by fracking begin with those working in the fracking industry and radiate out from there.

Sean Sweeney of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, in new research, notes that under a 2013 California disclosure law, drilling companies reported using 197 unique chemicals in 691 oil wells over a two-year period through last February. Fracking fluids, Sweeney said, typically contained about 25 chemicals. An analysis by the Environmental Working Group found that 15 of those listed are cited by California’s environmental initiative Proposition 65 as “known causes of cancer or reproductive harm.”

Fracking requires drilling deep into the earth and injecting a high-pressure water mixture (including water, sand, and chemicals) to release the gas inside the rocks. The fracking process poses greater risks to the workers involved than the already dangerous conventional natural gas extraction.

In addition to exposure to toxic chemicals, workers are exposed to silica dust from the sand. This is known to cause a lung disease called silicosis as well as lung cancer and has been linked to other lung diseases, kidney disease and autoimmune disease.

The new OSHA standard on silica released this year, although a huge improvement, illustrates well the difficulty in regulating the oil and gas industry. Not only did it take nearly 20 years to complete, the oil and gas industry has until the year 2021 before it is required to comply fully.

Fracking also affects surrounding communities and those downstream and downwind. It contaminates our water through spills, leaching, and inadequate treatment of wastewater. It pollutes our environment by releasing methane into the air during the production and transportation processes. It even causes earthquakes.  

The list of adverse health effects from the hundreds of chemicals used in the fracking process is long. It includes cancers such as leukemia; immune system impairment; changes in body weight and blood chemistry; damage to the heart, nervous system, liver and kidneys; reproductive disorders; and developmental problems.

But the greatest danger from fracking is the exacerbation of the climate crisis caused by burning the gas extracted. The health effects of the climate crisis are devastating.

The direct effects include the increasing severity of hurricanes, floods, wildfires, heat waves, and droughts and the illnesses and injuries they cause.

There are also numerous diseases related to air quality such as asthma and lung cancer, heart disease, and strokes. Higher air temperatures also increase water and food-borne illnesses such as salmonella, as warmer temperatures serve as breeding grounds for these types of bacteria. Insect-borne diseases are also increasing as climate change worsens.

We see this currently with the spread of Zika. The warmer temperatures provide ideal conditions for insects such as mosquitos to breed across a much a broader area. This allows viruses to spread to areas they’ve never been before and infect populations that have not developed any immune system defenses.

Given what is at risk, it is indefensible that Clinton merely wants to regulate fracking. She maintains that she will implement safeguards such as controlling methane emissions, protecting local water supplies, and requiring disclosure of the chemicals used. Implementation and enforcement of regulations have proven difficult and ineffective at the state and federal levels. Simply put, regulations will not make fracking safe.

But more importantly, the key issue is that Clinton’s promise to regulate fracking, even if kept, misses the point. It is not just about the immediate threat that fracking poses to the health of our communities and our environment, but the threat posed to our very existence by the climate crisis.

As a nurse, I see the debilitating effects of illness and injury every day. I see patients struggling asthma, heart disease, and cancer. I know the role climate change plays in these illnesses.

And I know that the way to protect workers, communities, and the environment is to ban fracking – exactly as only one candidate states unequivocably, Bernie Sanders. This isn’t just a political issue. This is a life or death issue.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Deborah Burger

Deborah Burger

Deborah Burger is a registered nurse and a co-president of National Nurses United.

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