In this Agora, TNH Executive Editor Constantinos Scaros and anarchist-poet-author Dan Georgakas tangle over whether fracking is useful or an environmental nightmare.
GEORGAKAS PRESENTS HIS POINT OF VIEW
Dino, New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo recently made news by prohibiting fracking in his state. Simultaneously, in Washington, DC the incoming Republican majority speaks of stimulating the practice of fracking.
Public response to such actions is often based on emotional views about the environment, free enterprise, and global warming rather than rational consideration of readily available scientific evidence.
Fracking is the practice of capturing natural gas and oil by injecting high-pressure fluids (a combination of water and chemicals) into rock formations thousands of feet underground.
Twenty-nine states frack or are preparing to do so. North Dakota and Texas, in particular, have experienced economic booms due to this practice. Fracking has helped make the United States energy independent with all the resulting political and economic benefits. Even the recent fall in gas prices is partially linked to our greatly increased oil and natural gas reserves.
What makes fracking controversial is that many Americans are wary of its negative impact on some of our basic needs: the safety of our food, water, air, and climate. Fracking definitely contaminates drinking water.
The Environmental Protection Agency, for example, has confirmed the contamination of drinking water in areas of Wyoming and Pennsylvania where there is fracking for natural gas. More generally, levels of radiation in drinking water in fracked areas are well above federal safety standards.
Agricultural interests, even in highly-conservative states, are concerned that the enormous amount of water needed for fracking has lowered water tables to dangerous levels at a time when those levels are already at historic lows.
Farm animals and grazing animals drinking contaminated water are another health challenge. One proposed plan for more fracking would allow its use in the pristine wild lands now owned and protected by conservation agencies of the federal government. These proposals do not require public disclosure about the chemicals used until after the drilling is completed.
An undisputable negative of fracking is the toxic methane gas it releases into the atmosphere in quantities 20% higher than that of coal, the “dirty” fuel.
This means the public is exposed to carcinogens like benzene that are known to cause respiratory and neurological problems as well as adding to global warming.
A three-year study by the Colorado School of Public Health has established that these health consequences are real, not speculative. Making matters worse in Colorado is that fracking can be done within 150 feet of housing.
The massive amounts of pressurized water needed to break rock apart can cause earthquakes. This already has occurred in Ohio and Arkansas.
If even a small percent of the thousands of new wells being planned stimulate earthquakes, the cost would be enormous, especially if the earthquakes affect any major urban centers.
Rigorous federal regulations that are strictly enforced could lessen some of the dangers of fracking. Currently available technology could reduce dust and escaping gas by recapturing and recycling gas vented from tanks, pipelines, and drilling. Fracking with water only with no chemicals added is another alternative.
Drilling companies could be required to use electronic compressors rather than diesel equipment, and pipeline leaks can be lessened by constant inspections.
Encasing and cementing wells at drilling sites also would be useful. Such regulations are often blindly opposed by free enterprise zealots who want to curb big government rather than respect the scientific data in hand.
New technology, stringent federal regulations, and more scientific studies might render fracking less risky. Until then, I think the short-term gains are not worth the long-term risks. I’d be interested in your evaluation of that risk-reward ratio.
Dan, you make an excellent case about the dangers of fracking, enough for me to make a rare exception to my general philosophy that we should do whatever we can to bring down the international price of energy.
For a host or reasons with seemingly endless rewards, I am in favor of drill baby, drill. Also, natural gas, coal, nuclear, solar, wind, and anything else.
I would like to see energy become as cheap and as plentiful as dirt. That would not only increase our quality of life by leaving us with more money in our pocket, but it will also create jobs and render the world’s biggest nuisances or outright villains – from Hugo Chavez to Vladimir Putin to ISIS – utterly irrelevant.
In fact, I think the cheap price of oil over the past month or two might actually counteract all the negatives in Barack Obama’s annual report card (because it happened on his watch) and give him a decent overall grade for the year.
The energy supply and cost is nothing short of national security. For that reason, I have no problem with federal regulations that require more stringent control over fracking, even as that might mean more overhead – thereby, less profit – for the energy companies involved.
If, say, a watchmaker manufactures a watch that is not water resistant because it is cheaper to make it that way, and it stops functioning when its owner washes his hands and some water splatters on it, that’s between the seller and the buyer – no one else. In that case, I do not want the government sticking its nose into it.
But for the reasons you state, society’s physiological well-being, I think the government has a right and a responsibility to intervene.
Moreover, because energy is a matter of national security, energy companies have a responsibility, too – to put country first.
I am fine with businesses maximizing profit, so long as it is not fueled by greed and so long as it does not do harm to the national interest. Accordingly, energy companies should only frack when it is safe to do so. Then, we’ll have all the energy we’ll ever need, and looney world leaders and terrorist organizations will be bankrupt.
WHAT’S YOUR OPINION?