Crude oil and the operations involved can be toxic and dangerous enough without Big Oil’s darling…natural gas. Produced through hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking, it’s caused a political uproar. On one side, you have corporations aimed at increasing lucrative profits and on the other side you have people who don’t want their tap water to catch on fire when they hold a lighter next to it. Water if life, but the natural gas industry doesn’t seem to care. Just follow the money…
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, over $33million in campaign contributions were made in the interest of natural pipelines between 1989 and 2016. While both democrats and republicans received donations, republicans received more than twice the amount of money. That “investment” must have paid off because natural gas became the largest source of energy production in the U.S in 2016.
The Dangers of Fracking
Regrettably, natural gas was long promoted as a “clean energy” and even many environmentalists considered it a good alternative to other fossil fuels at one point. However, thanks to scientists, activists, and the powerful documentaries by Josh Fox, Gasland, as well as Gasland Part II, the nation as a whole has been waking up to the scary reality of how dangerous fracking can actually be.
With inadequate regulations or transparency, operations are drilling deep into the ground and using millions of gallons of water and toxic chemicals to extract the gas.
As a result of these invasive technologies, earthquakes have dramatically increased. Oklahoma and California, in particular, have generated extra attention in regards to the link between natural gas and earthquakes. In California, the 4th of July foreshock and 5th of July “mainshock” in 2019 reached a 7.1 magnitude, making it the strongest earthquake in the state in 20 years. Interestingly enough, the epicenter was near Ridgecrest, which happens to be in Kern County where some of the highest numbers of oil and gas drilling wells are located within California.
No matter which area of the United States we’re looking at though, serious concerns regarding natural gas have been raised. In Pennsylvania, for example, some groundwater has been contaminated to the point that residents living near gas wells not only began drinking bottled water, but bathing with it too.
If you’re curious about the natural gas operation and potential threats in your region, check out The Oil & Gas 2.0 Threat Map.
The Price to Pay for Fracking
While select businesses and people are making money from natural gas, the cost for everyone else is too high to justify. These ongoing issues not only bring an economic burden, but can alter quality of life as well:
- Drinking water contamination – leading to water replacement, water treatment costs and groundwater cleanup
- Contribution of greenhouse gases accelerating the climate emergency
- Earthquakes from wastewater injection
- Health problems for residents near wells such as respiratory problems, headaches, eye irritation, high-risk pregnancies, nosebleeds, asthma, and nausea
- Health problems specifically involving children such as preterm births, low birth weight, high risk for chronic neurological problems, asthma, and cognitive issues
- Employees of natural gas operations being at risk for injury, illness, and death
- Habitat loss and fragmentation
- Threats or damage to rivers, lakes, bays, and streams
- Decline in tourism due to contamination and habitat loss
- Farms jeopardized
- Value of nearby homes jeopardized
- Blowouts, fires, and explosions at well sites
- Emergency response needs
- Cleanup for orphaned wells
- Repairs for ruined roads
- Air pollution detected notable distances away from wellheads
Note: Concerns have also been raised regarding a potential connection between cancer (especially rare childhood cancers) and fracking. Although there is no proven scientific link at this point, why would we wait for more studies when we could switch to 100% renewables?
While some of the monetary costs can be in the hundreds of thousands, some can be in the hundred of millions. In the Environment America Research & Policy Center 2012 report, “In Dimock, Pennsylvania, Cabot Oil & Gas reported having spent $109,000 on methane removal systems for
14 households.” That’s only 14 homes! Now consider this. According to FracTracker Alliance, there are approximately 1.7million active oil and gas wells in the U.S. and 12.6 million people are within the threat radius. That means millions of Americans are located less than half a mile from a production well, processing plant, or natural gas compressor station.
To make matters worse, there are no federal regulations limiting how close fracked wells can be to daycares, schools, hospitals, or nursing homes. As a result, thousands of these types of facilities are within a one-mile radius of a fracked well.
In addition to concern for the children and adults who are located close to an active well, we all need to be thinking about our access to clean water, especially as climate change-induced droughts increase. Direct or indirect contamination from fracking activities has the potential to require extra filtration from municipal water and that could cost billions for taxpayers. The Environment America Research & Policy Center 2012 report stated “Should gas drilling require drinking water to undergo additional treatment, New York would be required to build one of the world’s largest filtration plants at an estimated cost of $6 billion.” It’s no wonder New York voted to preemptively ban fracking.
Various experts have deemed fracking worse than coal, but like other fossil fuel industries, it appears that where there’s money to be made there are risks to be taken…even if the consequences are deadly. Natural gas is no exception because there’s a huge push by the industry to expand drilling operations, even in vulnerable areas like California where much of the country’s produce is farmed, sourcing enough water is a real challenge, and millions of people live on an earthquake fault. You see, not only can natural gas be sold within the United States, it’s become a profitable export delivered to other countries who get all the benefit without the risks.
Thankfully, there are regions both in the United States and Europe that have already restricted fracking and grassroots movements continue to grow.
Here’s a list of states within the U.S. that have put a county-wide or state-wide moratorium on fracking or banned it all together:
- New York (statewide)
- Vermont (statewide)
- Maryland (statewide)
- Washington (statewide)
- New Mexico
NOTE: Additionally, Berkeley, California became the first U.S. city to ban natural gas in new homes in 2019.
Here’s a list of countries that have banned fracking:
Gone are the days of leaving energy issues up to governments and corporations alone. Each of us has a role to play in shaping a healthier, more sustainable community and world. Here’s what you can do:
- Tell your representatives to ban natural gas drilling, city-wide, county-wide, state-wide, and federally and to support clean energy like wind and solar instead
- Opt for alternative energy for electricity, like wind or solar (through green utility programs or home installation)
- Opt for Energy Star appliances that don’t rely on natural gas (stove, washer and dryer, heating, etc.)
- Make your home as energy efficient as possible or, if you live in an apartment, request that your landlord does
- Request that your workplace and local businesses increase energy efficiency and practice being energy-wise (like reducing the heat or air-conditioning as needed)
- Consider supporting reputable non-profit organizations aimed at holding the natural gas industry accountable, better regulating the industry, or banning fracking all together
- Vote for politicians with the best environmental record and clean campaign contributions
- If you have a gas fireplace, do your best to limit its use
- Host a movie night with friends and community members and watch Gasland Part II
- Share this article with others
My mission: As a Holistic Health Coach & Eco Expert, I’m dedicated to leading you straight to the core of what it takes to enjoy a new level of vitality, desired weight loss, sustainability, and detoxification. Enjoy my transformative programs and experience true health with true purpose!
 U.S. Geological Survey. USGS.gov. “Man-Made Earthquakes Update” by William Ellsworth, Jessica Robertson, and Christopher Hook. January 17, 2014. Accessed October 6th, 2015. http://www.usgs.gov/blogs/features/usgs_top_story/man-made-earthquakes/