Hydraulic fracturing, which is the extraction of natural gas by horizontally drilling into shale rock formations, is great in theory.
It marks the profound shift in the United States’ energy policy from dirty coal power to power generated with considerably less carbon emissions. It even, according to America’s Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA), “emits just over half of the CO2 per megawatt-hour (MWh) of a coal plant and modern natural gas combined. Cycle turbines emit 60 percent less CO2 per MWh than a typical coal plant.” This translates to an overall reduction of 25 percent in CO2 emissions. So what’s the big deal?
What companies seem to neglect is the respecting of boundaries. They will march into the poorest of neighborhoods, which are mainly located on farmland, and ask them to sign some papers to lease their property for a supposedly non-invasive project going on nearby. They will even receive quite a generous sum for their consent.
What ends up happening is that the hydrofracking produces millions of gallons of wastewater that is highly carcinogenic. It turns out that this is the people’s drinking water. Can you imagine ingesting water that catches fire when you hold a match up to it? To make sure no one sues, the companies provide the residents with clean water but do not admit any guilt on their part.
The reason natural gas companies can get away with so much is due to intense political lobbying. Dick Cheney, who was once the CEO of Halliburton, exempted the natural gas and fracking industry from any regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act. He advocated the reduction of regulation for the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and pushed Congress to “insert it into the language.”
This meant that the natural gas companies did not have to disclose the chemicals they were subjecting people to. This information would prove why animals’ hair was falling out and why ecosystems in ponds and lakes were deteriorating. Since the EPA’s authority to protect drinking water could only be interpreted by that act, where the term “underground injection” excludes “the underground injection of natural gas for purposes of storage; and the underground injection of fluids or propping agents (other than diesel fuels) pursuant to hydraulic fracturing operations related to oil, gas, or geothermal production activities,” they had absolutely no power.
Even when nine of the major natural gas companies – BJ Services, Complete Production Services, Key Energy Services, Patterson-UTI, RPC Inc., Schlumberger, Superior Well Services, Weatherford and Halliburton – were asked to disclose information by the EPA, Halliburton still refused. The EPA had to resort to a subpoena to force “Big Oil” to disclose the 50,000 spreadsheets showing the chemicals they were using to see if there was any correlation with health problems across the U.S. Last December, the EPA proved there was just such a connection when they found carcinogens such as benzene, glycol ethers and butoxyethanol, which are used in hydraulic fracturing fluid, in the groundwater of Pavillion, Wyo.
Political pundits turn a blind eye to this as well. Since $2.3 billion is coming in as revenue and natural gas is being touted as the new “green energy,” the program is kept. The states’ budgets are also stressed, so they don’t have the ability to make regulations on the scale that the EPA is able to. The bill in Congress called the FRAC (Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals) Act was shot down in committee. The weak pro-drilling arguments were that only six states were tested and therefore the EPA studies cannot be dubbed conclusive.
In conclusion, hydraulic fracturing is a viable source of energy, but only if it’s regulated. Josh Fox, creator of the documentary “Gasland,” makes the point that since it is illegal for an individual to pollute the environment with hazardous chemicals, it should be the same for large oil corporations too. So why should we invest in a faulty system? With countries like the U.K., France, Germany and Poland jumping on the bandwagon for fracking, it seems that the effects need to be fixed first before such a system can be implemented in another country. Right now, our logic is to contaminate our water sources for the sake of short term energy. We need to understand how this could work with tighter standards, how to stop political lobbying and how to handle the lands that have already been devastated. If we don’t, how is this any different than coal?
Alexa Jones is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at email@example.com.