The Growing Case to Ban Fracking

Protesters demand a statewide ban on hydraulic fracturing, a controversial technique for removing oil and natural gas from the earth also known as 'fracking,' on June 30, 2014 in New York City. (Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

The Growing Case to Ban Fracking

"“There's not a lot of noise in this data... It's looking worse and worse for fracking."

"There is no regulatory framework for fracking that will keep the toxins out of air and water, or will protect the climate from carbon and methane releases. It can't be done. It can't be made safe. Like lead paint, we finally have to ban it."

So concludes Sandra Steingraber of Concerned Health Professionals of New York in an interview. She is one of five authors of a newly released compendium of scientific and media findings on the dangers of shale gas development her group coauthored with Physicians for Social Responsibility.

This report is the sixth in a series that looks at peer-reviewed scientific articles, as well as government reports and investigative stories, on the wide variety of harms created by the fracking industry. The reports examine the human rights implications of poisoning drinking water with fracking chemicals; the heavy climate impacts of methane release, in both the extraction and transportation of fracked natural gas for export; the industry's weak record on worker safety; and increased earthquake activity in communities near fracking operations.

"There's not a lot of noise in this data. It's looking worse and worse for fracking."

Fracking extracts shale oil by injecting a mix of sand, water, and chemicals, many of which are known to be toxic, into horizontal wells drilled into rock. As Steingraber explains, "To get the sand grains down there and not clog plumbing, you have to add chemicals that lubricate. Also, shale is a living organism so you have powerful biocides to kill off the microbiota on shale. It's toxic and there is no way to turn reverse that. Fresh drinkable water is turned to poison."

The industry has taken off thanks to support for domestic energy development under successive administrations. In 2018, the United States eclipsed both Saudi Arabia and Russia in natural gas production. Natural gas is mostly methane, some thirty times more powerful a heat-trapping gas than carbon, in a fracking industry leaky both in gas extraction and transport. As the increased supply has lowered prices, the industry has sought to expand exports, building the infrastructure to export liquified natural gas to other countries.

For Steingraber, who began collecting this data in 2012 as a member of a "frontline" community fighting fracking in her home state of New York, the notion that the United States would crack open its bedrock and fill its drinking water with known carcinogens in order to export energy to other countries is nothing short of blasphemy.

"By design liquified natural gas has to leak so it's already bad," she says, "but getting it set up for transport is a climate disaster on steroids. It also creates a terrorist threat."

As fracking has expanded, so have fears over its impacts, as this latest report reflects. "There's not a lot of noise in this data," Steingraber says. "It's looking worse and worse for fracking."

She points to one of the fifteen main themes of the report--the challenge to the notion that natural gas can help wean us off coal. "The common discourse is that natural gas [because it burns more cleanly than coal] is a bridge fuel," she notes. "Now, not only can we show there is no evidence for that, but that fracking leads to a terrible place."

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