Tag Archives: hydraulic fracturing

No Fracking Way

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Short for hydraulic fracturing, fracking is fast becoming recognized as one of the most dangerous and damaging activities that mankind has ever engaged in, and is yet another example of the extremely unfortunate Randian spirit of this age. Did you know that fracking is exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, and state water-use regulations? It’s called the Halliburton Loophole. Consider that while perusing this list of chemicals used in the initial drilling and then the fracking processes.

Fracking is a triple threat. It severely damages air and water quality and leads to earthquakes and sinkholes, while marching us right off the Gangplank to a Warm Future. None of these issues are confined to the areas directly involved in fracking, either. They spread out through whole landscapes, as air and water do.

Air

Mead, CO

Both the preliminary drilling process and the process of hydraulic fracturing have serious effects on air quality that every US resident should be incredibly wary of, as fracking is allowed to continue in close proximity to people’s homes and on public lands. During the drilling phase, before the actual fracking even begins, non-methane hydrocarbons (NMHCs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are released into the air. These are subsets of what are known as volatile organic compound (VOCs) and they have serious effects on human health in tiny quantities with chronic exposure (parts per trillion, for which there is no federal safety standard) because they are endocrine disruptors. Most discussions about the dangers of fracking do not include this information because it isn’t part of the fracking process, but the drilling. NMHCs and PAHs are compounds that are released from the earth during drilling, which would never have made it into the air otherwise.

The endocrine system is basically the system of hormones that controls many aspects of physiology, including tissue function, growth and development, metabolism, mood regulation, sexual functions and reproductive processes. It influences nearly every cell and organ in our bodies, so things like NMHCs and PAHs can wreak havoc, including causing delayed development and lower IQ scores in prenatally exposed children at far lower concentrations than what are found around fracking sites. “Endocrine disruptors have become an integral part of our economy and modern lifestyle, while at the same time are insidiously depleting the pool of healthy and intelligent individuals on a global scale.” Read more here.

Waste water carrying the many hazardous chemicals used for fracking is pumped into open-air pits for evaporation, releasing many chemicals into the air, including more of the VOCs, leading to smog, acid rain, spreading air contamination, and resulting in unforeseen compounds of toxic chemicals.

Water

fracking_waterEach fracking job requires anywhere between 1 – 8 million gallons of water and some 40,000 gallons of chemicals. For the wells that currently exist throughout the US (about 500,000), if we assume the maximum amount of water and the largest number of times a well can typically be fracked (18) that leaves us with 72 trillion gallons of water that’s been polluted with 360 billion gallons of extremely toxic chemicals. Even if we took the minimum estimates, the numbers would be no less disturbing.

We need to be extremely concerned about where all this water is coming from, and where the chemical-laden “produced water,” as the industry calls it, is going. As mentioned, some of it is recovered and goes into various forms of pits and containers, but a lot of it isn’t recovered; as much as 50-70% of it stays in the ground. This information, combined with even the most rudimentary knowledge of where humans get drinking water from makes it absolutely inconceivable that companies involved in fracking continually deny responsibility for the contamination and toxification of nearby rivers, streams and residential wells.

The companies engaging in fracking say it’s not possible for the fracking process to create that contamination. Well, they must think we’re really stupid. Methane gas and toxic chemicals definitely leach out from this system and contaminate nearby groundwater. Studies have shown that levels of methane in nearby wells that are used for drinking water have methane concentration levels 17% higher than normal. There have been over 1000 documented cases of contaminated drinking water, as well as many people who have experienced respiratory, sensory and neurological damage from drinking this polluted water. There are even stories of children coming out of the shower with chemical burns in areas that have experienced more extreme levels of contamination. These people can light their tap water on fire. It’s horrifying.

Why is fracking exempt from the acts that have been specifically designed to protect us from things like fracking? (Hint: former vice president Dick Cheney had a lot to do with it.) It’s very literally destroying people’s lives, and we have to do something about it.

Earthquakes & Sinkholes

What happens when you forcefully inject millions of gallons of chemical soup miles into the ground? There are a couple of pieces to this puzzle – there’s how the water interacts with the layers of the earth that it’s injected into, and the fact that the known deposits of natural gas lay on the edges of tectonic plates.

Florida

Fracking stands for hydraulic fracturing. So what is being fractured? The ground beneath your feet. Natural gas is contained in layers of shale deep underground. High-pressure injection of water mixed with massive amounts of chemicals is used to break up the shale and release the natural gas. These layers are part of the foundation of solid ground, just like you have a foundation for your house that prevents the whole thing from shifting and sinking. These foundations also contain a distributed pressure, helping to hold up everything above. If you break up that foundation and release that pressure, as fracking does, you get sinkholes. Some of the most notable examples of these are in Louisiana and Ohio.

Fracking also disrupts the edges of tectonic plates, which is why there has been a 600% increase in minor earthquakes in and around fracking areas. For the moment, the damage is limited, but it’s entirely possible that we will do enough damage to the edges of the plates to eventually cause major earthquakes which will result in massive losses. We don’t yet have a strong understanding of how all these forces interplay. If we’re not careful, we could find out in the worst way possible.

Global Warming

There are plenty of natural gas advertisements stating that it’s a cleaner source of energy, that it respects the earth, that it’s safe and abides by “rigorous” safety standards. It’s all bogus, of course, but none of it’s as big a lie as the part about being a clean source of energy. Aside from being incredibly environmentally damaging in the ways discussed above, it’s making major contributions to global warming.

Let’s start with the transportation of water and chemicals. I made the point earlier that trillions of gallons of water and billions of gallons of chemicals are required for this process. They are transported to and fro by tanker trucks, helping the total to reach many millions of metric tons worth of carbon footprint. Even worse, massive amounts of methane, a more harmful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, escapes during the fracking process. Methane traps much more heat than CO2, unless it’s burned. If it’s burned it turns into CO2, still a greenhouse gas, just slightly less bad. So, it’s burned off where it can be, slightly decreasing the risks, but it also often escapes directly into the atmosphere, not to mention drinking water.

There are so many good reasons to stop fracking, to work hard to increase the number of states and countries who are at least declaring a moratorium on fracking. If we allow corporations and governments to continue on this destructive path, we condemn the next generation – our own children – to an unlivable world.

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A Call to Action

industry-611668_640With what we’ve known for quite a long time now about the causes and effects of climate change, it’s almost inconceivable that we’re still, as a species, plowing ahead with our ill-advised plan to suck up all possible fossil fuels and burn them. The extraction processes and the pollution resulting from use are all extremely damaging to our environment and bode ill for future survival. We’re beginning to realize that even the more drastic estimates of global warming and its effect on all species, including us, have been frighteningly conservative in the face of our current reality.

Do you know what fossil fuels are made of? Organic matter that’s been laying in the earth for millions of years. Through a process involving time, compression, and heat, the organic matter turns into coal, oil, and natural gas. Unless you want to personally help comprise the next generation of fossil fuels, I recommend reading on.

Living sustainably effects every part of our lifestyles, and I typically focus on the small things that are part of our daily routines, because they can really add up if enough people make a conscious effort, make better choices, and spread the knowledge and initiative around. And because the smaller choices are more manageable.

The problem is – they aren’t enough. The two biggest issues facing us today in terms of our very survival are agriculture and fossil fuels. These two industries have shown no desire to benefit humanity, only their own profit margins. It’s a vastly different thing to say ‘stop eating GMOs’ and ‘stop using your car’ but it’s really no good doing one and not the other. So, right now, let’s think about the difficult choices instead of the easy ones.

There’s so much outrage about the what the fossil fuel industry is doing to the planet, as there should be. Just imagine if the massive amounts of money spent on lobbying went instead to research and development, design and implementation of alternative energies. We’d be sitting pretty. And the companies would benefit by diversifying and moving into the future with the rest of us. But that’s not happening. Instead, they’re creating a situation in which it’s entirely possible that many of us will not move into the future at all. It’s so disgustingly myopic, it’s not likely to change, and there are few ways that you and I can hope to make a difference.

We all use fossil fuels. We’re all complicit. With current technologies and the way things work, it’s impossible to avoid without completely uprooting your life, but each one of us must begin to fight to make the changes we can in order to attain the smallest degree of complicity possible. This is a moral imperative. It should be an easy choice for anyone who has or plans to have children, or nieces and nephews, or in any way cares about future generations. The truth is, the suggestions I’m about to make are not only going to help to transfer power away from the fossil fuel industry, helping future generations, they’re also physically and mentally healthier for you in the present. These are just a few; there are plenty more things you can do.

Invest in solar panels on your home – They’re not that expensive to install and they pay you back while reducing or eliminating your reliance on fossil fuels and nuclear power. You might also be able to benefit from a feed-in tariff. If you generate enough electricity to feed back into the power grid, you get paid for it. You can also get federal tax credits, and some state governments offer rebates as well.

Use your bicycle for more than entertainment – In several countries, we grow up with this idea that bicycles are for entertainment. They’re fun, or they’re for kids who can’t drive to go visit nearby friends. You know what? They ARE fun! So why not use your bicycle to get to work, or go to the store, or the library, or out to dinner? As an American, taking my bicycle for a 30-minute journey sounded like a bit much, until I started doing it. Now I love it and there’s no way I’d rather travel, even for much longer trips. Americans spend tons of money pimping our rides, so why not spend a little on pimping our bicycles to make them both comfortable and functional? It’s a hell of a lot cheaper than a lift kit.

How about a motorcycle or a moped? – Another good option for longer trips when a bicycle isn’t feasible. They’re not very expensive, especially mopeds, and they get you where you need to go while paying you back for your investment by using waaaaay less gasoline.

Move – Seriously. I know it’s difficult and time-consuming, but it’s also fun! And you can choose to move to a community that allows you to live more sustainably. It’s a big thing, but people do move all the time. It’s not inconceivable.

Buy local – Just about everything you buy from your local supermarket has traveled long distances, using lots of fossil fuels for production, storage, and transportation. Industrial agriculture is THE biggest user of fossil fuels and producer of greenhouse gases. Small local farms tend to use much more sustainable practices, to stay away from GMOs, and they require little use of fossil fuels for production, storage and transportation.

Gardening – Grow food at home, help start or engage in community gardens. This is physically, emotionally, economically, and socially healthy and sustainable, and results in a grand-scale reduction of the need to use fossil fuels.

Don’t vote party lines – Vote for what’s best for your children and the future. Always. Educate yourself about bills and propositions and politicians, and the effects they’ll have, keeping in mind that they are all often purposefully misleading. Dig deep. It’s necessary.

Engage in activism – Get out there! We need you to help make a difference and to inspire others to do the same. This kind of bottom – up change will only work if we reach a tipping point.

As the saying goes, “If you are not a part of the solution, you are a part of the problem.” ~ Leroy Eldridge Cleaver

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