If you've been wondering what fracking is and whether it's good or bad, you're not alone. It's a complicated, high tech process whose advocates say it produces abundant clean energy. As an environmentalist as well as a consumer, though, I've been concerned about the impacts fracking is having on drinking water, clean air, and farmland. To try to chip away at my confusion, I electronically interviewed expert Maya van Rossum (pictured left). Maya is the Delaware Riverkeeper, the spokesperson for and leader of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network (DRN), a nonprofit environmental organization working to preserve, protect and restore the Delaware River Watershed, an area that extends into four states: New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. Here's what she had to say.
Maya, in a nutshell, can you explain what fracking is and why it worries you?
Fracking is the process of discharging massive volumes of water under high pressure into a drilled well in order to fracture the shale found under ground. The fracking process requires 5 to 9 million gallons of water for each well frack. Often this water comes from aquifers, streams and rivers. To that fresh water has been added toxic chemicals. Water that stays underground after the fracking has occurred is highly toxic, but the water that comes back to the surface is even more toxic.
The toxified fluid trapped underground can make its way to our freshwater aquifers, threatening drinking water supplies. Toxified water that gets back to the surface of the earth is often stored in open pits or transported to other sites by truck or piping. In all of these activities, failures happen, contaminating streams, farmlands, our air and our communities.
Fracking increases the presence of methane gas underground, contaminting drinking water and homes (see photo below, where water coming out of the faucet contained so much methane, it caught on fire). In some cases, famlies have experienced explosions in their homes as a result. Methane is also a dangerous greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming and climate change. In fact, in a 20-year time frame, methane is 72 times more potent than carbon dioxide at causing waring. According to increasing research, so much methane is lost from the drilling process, and so much pollution is released from trucks, compressors, loss of trees, and chemical use, that shale gas is a greater contributor to climate change than coal.
It's massive. We're not talking about a well here, and a well there. We're talking about a proliferation of wells throughout our communities. In just the 8,700 square miles of the upper portions of the Delaware River watershed that lie partly in Pennsylvania and partly in New York, we are talking about 32,000 to 64,000 wells. That means 160 billion to 320 billion gallons of water and 800 million to 3.2 bilion gallons of toxic chemical additives. It means 128 million o 256 million truck trips through our towns, and thousands of miles of pipelines and compressors.
It means devastating quality of life, ecotourism, recreation, and the hundreds of thousands of jobs and tens of millions of dollars that depend upon a healthy Delaware River, not to mention putting at risk the drinking water supply of over 17 million people in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware.
What about the waste fracking generates – if any?
It's toxic, and radioactive. UItultimately it ends up in our waterways or being injected into underground caverns that are increasing earthquakes in our communities.
It's simply not worth it.
Back to the energy question, as horrible as these impacts sound, don't we need to frack for gas to obtain energy independence and increase our national security?
No. Contrary to the folk tales the gas companies spin, shale gas development is not about energy independence, increased jobs, or protection from climage change. It's about profits for the gas companies regardless of the harm or costs to the US and us citizens. Many fracking companies plan to export the gas they recover because they can sell it abroad for as much as 3 times the price they can get in the U.S.
I don't live in Delaware. How can I find out if companies are considering fracking in my part of the country.
It's pretty easy to find out if you are in an area subject to potential fracking and drilling. Just search "fracking + name of your state/town/community." I guarantee you'll find more information on what is happening in your area than you care to read!
What can I do to protect my community from the pollution fracking causes?
The only way is to stop the industry in its tracks. Politicans are receiving a lot of money from the drillers, pipeline companies, LNG facilities and others who are profiting from this polluting industry. We need to ensure that those politicans understand that if they take that money and act on behalf of the drillers and frackers, they will be voted out of office.
We also need to demand increased investment in sustainable energy, and get our politicans to pass stronger environmental laws that wipe out the special exemptions that the natural gas industry enjoys.
Finally, you can help spread the word by talking with your friends and neighbors. A good way to open people's eyes is to hold a house party and show them the movie Gasland, then have a follow-up part and show the recently released Gasland II (available on demand, on HBO, and for sale).
Once everyone is educated and energized, write letters, attend events, support local organizations working on this issue, and vote!
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