Fracking: an Environmental and Political Issue
Fracking is a hotly debated environmental and political issue. Advocates insist it is a safe and economical source of clean energy; critics, however, claim fracking can destroy drinking water supplies, pollute the air, contribute to the greenhouse gases that cause global warming, and trigger earthquakes. Most fracking wells in use today rely on two technologies: hydraulic fracturing, which has been in use since the 1940s, and horizontal drilling, a technique that first became widespread in the 1990s, according to Columbia University’s Earth Institute. Though fracking is used worldwide to extract gas and oil, a fracking boom has occurred recently in the United States, partly driven by concerns over the costs associated with imported oil and other fossil fuels as well as energy security that is, having uninterrupted access to energy at affordable prices in ways that are preferably impervious to international disruptions, according to the Brookings Institution.
Fracking, or drilling for gas by hydraulic fracturing, has been associated with a growing number of health risks. Last week, I began this series looking at some of the hazardous chemicals injected into the wells to make drilling easier and cheaper, and the growing risks to our health by the GOP rushing through the approval of Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). While scientists and area residents have been sounding the alarm about the health impacts of shale gas drilling for years, recent studies, a legal decision and public health advocates are bringing greater legitimacy to concerns. Fracking is booming in northeastern BC, where more than 7300 shale gas wells have been drilled, as well as in Alberta and New Brunswick. The provinces of Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Nova Scotia have imposed moratoriums on fracking until more evidence about its effects on the environment and health is available.
How it works
But the epicentre of fracking is south of the border, in Pennyslvania, where officials have embraced the economic opportunity of the Marcellus shale deposit, one of the largest in the world. The industry’s sway in that state led to 2012 gas-drilling legislation that featured a medical gag rule; physicians were permitted to investigate fracking chemicals, but barred from disclosing information to patients. Nephrologist Dr. Alfonso Rodriguez, who launched a First Amendment lawsuit challenging the law, was one of the physicians leading the fight against the gag order, which was overturned by Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court in December 2013.
Across the United States, fracking is regulated by a patchwork of state and local legislation, according to the National Conference of State Legislators. At the federal level, fracking is exempt from some of the requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act, particularly the requirement to disclose the chemicals used in well injections. Wyoming, Michigan and Texas, however, have regulations requiring full disclosure of the chemicals used in fracking. Dozens of other proposed regulations that control some portion of the fracking industry are now moving through the legislatures of states where fracking is a large and growing industry. Some cities are taking the matter into their own hands by banning fracking mines. But by most accounts, America’s fracking boom especially in areas of shale gas isn’t going to stop anytime soon: The Annual Energy Outlook 2012 predicted that the country’s ample supply of shale gas will account for nearly half of the natural gas produced in the U.S. by 2035. More current analysis shows a much more modest outlook for fracking due to dropping gas prices and overproduction. In conclusion fracking is horrible for us humans.