Hydraulic fracturing for natural gas endangers water, atmosphere, and lives

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Imagine holding a lit match to the water streaming from your kitchen faucet and seeing flames shoot out. This sci-fi scenario is actually happening in rural homes in Colorado and other states. This ignitable, methane-laced drinking water was created by a new process of drilling for natural gas called horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

The story behind the flames in the sink is an all-too-common tale in today’s capitalist-dominated world. It is another destructive example of the drive for profit riding roughshod over the environment and working people’s lives. It’s also a tale of government and big business collusion, which is now being confronted by a growing grassroots movement.

Shattering the earth for energy. Horizontal fracking was developed in the ’90s by the energy giant Halliburton. It extracts gas locked in shale thousands of feet below ground. A well is drilled to bedrock and then extended horizontally for miles. Water containing acid and other toxins — exactly which are a “trade secret” — is forced down under extreme pressure, causing the rock to break and releasing gas, which flows to the surface.

This process has triggered a huge upsurge in production, with an incredible 85,235 new wells since 2003. Starting in the less populous West and the Southeast, the most recent target is the Marcellus shale formation stretching from West Virginia through New York. This region is the largest reservoir of natural gas in the country. It also lies below the nation’s largest naturally filtered watershed, the Delaware River Basin. It provides drinking water for 15 million people, including the residents of New York City and Philadelphia.

A ‘greener’ alternative — NOT! Natural gas has been hyped as cleaner energy. But the truth is that fracking is dirty and fraught with perils.

Each fracturing episode, done multiple times for each well, consumes up to nine million gallons of water, rife with hazardous chemicals. Half the contaminated water stays trapped below ground. The rest returns to the surface, now also heavy with salts and radioactive minerals. There is currently no technology for making this water usable or safe. It is dumped into abandoned wells and open pits, where it threatens the clean water supply and kills animals that drink there.

The shattered bedrock is geologically unstable. Earthquakes in Texas drilling regions have registered 4.0 on the Richter scale.

Fracking pollutes the air as well. The ozone generated at rural drilling pads duplicates the smog level of Los Angeles. Today in Fort Worth, the hydrocarbons from drilling equal that of all the area’s automobiles. It’s true that burning gas results in about half the greenhouse emissions of other fossil fuels. But because drilling and trucking gas consumes so much oil, and with the leakage of raw methane into the air, natural gas drilled by this method is an equal or even greater contributor to global warming.

Government collusion with industry. Despite environmental devastation and inevitable drilling and transporting accidents and spills, fracking is exempt from the federal Clean Water and Clean Air Acts. This green light to pollute was engineered by energy-industry buddy Vice President Cheney during the Bush years. President Obama has kept the go-ahead signal on by opposing a moratorium on drilling in Pennsylvania and New York.

State governments short of funds are jumping in the pockets of the energy moguls as well. Pennsylvania has allowed drilling on state lands. In New York, the government has leased mineral rights on vast tracts, anticipating tax revenues from fracking.

Energy industry hacks have exploited the economic devastation of rural areas, pressuring poor landowners to allow drilling. They pit city against countryside, and the claim to create jobs and cheaper energy against the environment. Their partial success in polarizing people on the issue is countered by growing awareness of fracking’s dangers and the damage it’s already caused.

Resistance on the rise. When the New York state government, eager to cash in on the bonanza, issued a draft environmental impact statement minimizing the risks, concerned residents flocked to hearings and community meetings in protest. Thousands have signed online petitions calling for the statement’s withdrawal and against opening the region to fracking.

The only sane alternative is planned, renewable energy. One of the many negatives of fracking is that widespread use will delay — again — the development of safe, renewable energy sources. Options exist that won’t drain the world of fossil fuels that take millions of years to generate, and threaten the earth itself at their current rate of use. The technology for solar energy, wind, and tides, for example, could readily be advanced and applied. But these sources will never be used on a mass scale in an economy driven by profit, with its inevitable waste and toxicity.

The incredible risks inherent in pulverizing bedrock for natural gas make it obvious that corporate profiteers can’t be entrusted with humanity’s and the environment’s safety.

Don’t leave our lives and future in the hands of the frackers!

Demand nationalization of the entire energy industry under workers’ and community control.

Push for development and widespread use of renewable energy with national planning and international collaboration.

And join with others opposed to fracking by clicking here to sign the online petition.

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