Several months ago my husband and I drove to see family in Ithaca, NY. It was on this trip that we saw the word frack for the first time. It seemed like a funny word, harkening back to Fraggle Rock episodes. The town was buzzing with anti-frack messages. Our family members briefly explained that fracking was the process for removing natural gas from rock and shale, and that it caused major damage and pollution. Ithaca was determined to drive fracking out of the area (Don’t Frack the Gorge was the motto my husband wanted to coin). They managed to secure a moratorium on the worst types of fracking until a review is completed, probably this year.
Then, a couple weeks ago, we watched the movie Gasland. It became apparent that the concept of “natural gas” being a perfect alternative to oil is a short-sighted and probably flawed concept. Fracking is basically in our regional neighborhood (here on the east coast: in Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, and until recently, in New York – and many other states, and even public conservation land, across the country). Fracking is affecting some of the most beautiful and preserved landscapes in driving distance (ie, the Catskills, Delaware River Basin, Pennsylvania’s multigenerational farmlands, and so on).
The documentary, Gasland, is decidedly anti-fracking in its message. I haven’t done much research, yet, to try to understand the natural gas industry, its downfalls, and its possible “fixes.” However, the sight of beautiful family farms in the shadows of massive fracking pump operations was an effective image. The footage of tap water in neighboring homes that ignited when a flame was held nearby was alarming. The assertion that 1.7 million gallons of water combined with chemicals is used to do a single frack, and then mostly drained right into the groundwater, was certainly provocative. The hundreds of acres of public park land in the midwest that is now being fracked with no limit, was a sobering thought.
Then, a couple nights ago I happened to catch T. Boone Pickens on the Daily Show. When Jon Stewart asked him about the environmental problems created by fracking, he simply said he’d fracked a few hundred sites and never seen any damage. Granted, T. Boone Pickens is trying to convert the US from using oil energy to using more natural gas, but why is it OK to respond with such a dismissive and obviously disconnected answer? I am sure he employs hundreds of capable professionals who could not only identify these problems, but probably solve them, too.
If you’re like me and want to know more about the environmental effects of fracking, check out the National Wildlife Federation’s blog post on the subject, including this tidbit:
Some have suggested that this development frenzy is a sign of progress, that natural gas in the United States’ shale formations is a treasure trove that must be tapped to help us wean ourselves from dirty coal and save us from global warming. However, no one has proven that natural gas is any better than coal in reducing our vulnerability to global warming. In fact, a newly-released analysis from Cornell professor Robert Howarth suggests that greenhouse gases from fracked natural gas may be worse than coal over a 20-year time horizon because of methane leakage during production and transport.
And a brief statement by the Union of Concerned Scientists looks at the effects in more detail.
An opposing point of view was published last year, in The Washington Examiner. As usual, environmentalists are painted as alarmist & irrational, although most of what I have read rationally calls for research, safety regulations, and environmental protection, not absolute bans.
Alyssa works at all MOM’s locations.