Illustration courtesy of the EPA in the public domain.
By Neva Knott
Water igniting as it runs out of the tap? Now that’s a science experiment—gone awry. Daily, I hear radio news reports of these horrors of fracking, or read yet another expose through my Facebook pages feed of concerned environmental groups. Yet, every time I mention fracking in conversation, I get the furrowed brow and “Fracking?” in response.
The word’s out, just give a Google and you will quickly become informed, maybe even awestruck or outraged. You’ll see images of burning water and some gunk that used to be water. I’m writing about fracking to create more awareness. There is nothing environmentally apt about this process for extracting natural gas from the ground. Really, if the EPA is taking a hard stand on regulations and the NRDC is speaking out against it…well, it’s bad, bad, bad. Fracking is bad for the land, for anything living on the land, for the global water cycle and supply, and for people living anywhere near a fracking site.
Here’s what’s so bad about fracking: nasty, nasty, nasty chemicals (though we’re not told which, because this pertinent information is protected as a trade secret) are combined with sand and pumped into water to blast natural gas from deep within the earth. Also, fracking releases methane into the atmosphere, thus contributing to climate change. The NRDC provides a full explanation: http://www.nrdc.org/energy/gasdrilling/.
When scientists consider actions such as polluting water to get a clean energy source like natural gas out of the ground, they evaluate the outcome by applying the Precautionary Principle. When abiding by this Principle, scientists consider the threats involved in any action. If unable to determine how much of a threat, or if there is a sense that the destruction possible is irreparable, the action is deemed too risky. Also, the burden of proof–proof of safety–is placed upon the entity taking action, in this case tracking companies. In applying the Precautionary Principle to fracking, it is easy to see that it is wrong action. Fracking pollutes one necessary natural resource irreparably to garner another.
Not only is fracking a disavowal of common sense, its practice raises the issue of embodied energy. Embodied energy is a calculation of the energy used to produce a product. Clearly, a disproportionately large amount of energy used to obtain fracked natural gas. And, the energy of extraction is dirty–yet being sold as an appropriate process for extraction of a clean energy source.
There are alternatives to natural gas as an energy source; there are no alternatives to what water provides humans and other species. Life is dependent on water.
Environmental impacts are not the only problem with fracking; there are several economic, cultural and social downfalls. As an English teacher, I love a good story. A story that can elucidate a social issue is even better. Gus Van Sant’s film, Promised Land, is just such a story. It hit theatres about a year ago. Matt Damon, Frances McDormand, and Hal Holbrook tell the story of what selling out to fracking cost one community. If reading science news is not your thing, I invite you to watch this film, or at least watch the trailer you can find at the link I’ve provided.
Sometimes I think people—we—bring these problems upon ourselves. In the last few years, planet Earth and those of us who live here have experienced huge environmental onslaughts. The BP oil spill and Fukishima caused irreparable damage…these two events changed ecological history for all time. They changed our fate on Earth. There are far too many such incidents—those that go unreported and those that happen far from home so that it’s easy to adopt an attitude of ignorance. Environmental issues are not dinner table talk. We are creating these travesties ourselves through our refusal to be informed, and to change our ways. We are creating these travesties by acting as ostriches, by sticking our heads in the sand.
America is fortunate to have clean drinking water as a norm, pumped into our houses and so easily accessible anywhere. As a people, we see this as a right, not a luxury.
Every American should be asking, “Fracking? What the What?” Not in terms of asking what it means, but in terms of asking why it’s being done. Why we as a people are allowing our clean drinking water to be poisoned.
The EPA, just this week, as reported on NPR and by other news sources, ordered that the chemicals discharged into the ocean by fracking in California be named. Huge step forward. Precedent set.
Let’s not be birds of a feather, playing the game of if I can’t see it, it doesn’t exist. Let’s take action by signing up for wind power as an alternative to natural gas. Let’s take action by exercising our democracy and speaking out. Let’s take action by taking up our civic duty and disallowing fracking.