*Warning: this post contains language that might teach children creative ways to almost, but not quite, curse. Read at your own risk*
I just returned from a toxic waste spill resulting from natural gas drilling in my area of Northeastern PA.
I have a few things to say on the subject of natural gas drilling. Yes, I consider myself to be an environmentalist. Yes, I like the idea of clean energy. But natural gas isn’t even remotely close to clean, and here’s why:
The concept of natural gas has long been sold to the public as a “trasition fuel”, basically designed to fill the gap between our current fossil fuel dependency and a new infastructure for renewable energy. It’s been said that natural gas is cleaner, too.
These two points are simply untrue. Natural gas requires a completely new infrasturcture, which is being built in the form of gas wells (one every 40 acres) and massive pipelines, in the midwest, Pennsylvania, and New York.
It’s not cleaner, either. Natural gas drilling is a filthy process. Just ask my neighbor, Dimock. Drilling companies are exempt from the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act, to name just a couple. Also, natural gas, when it escapes into the environment unburned, is 21 times more powerful as an agent of global warming than carbon dioxide. It’s been estimated that up to 4% of harvested natural gas escapes in the process. Yeah, that’s a lot of global warming.
Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, is a terrifying new way in which natural gas is hugely damaging to the environment and the homes near drilling sites. Fracking is a gas-extraction process during which chemical-laden fluids are forced deep into the ground to break up a layer of shale and release the natural gas within. Sometimes, vertical cracks in the rock allow the released natural gas to seep upward in unexpected places, where it fills homes and other structures. It only takes a spark to ignite this highly combustible gas, creating an explosion. Home explosions caused by natural gas extraction have been documented in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Texas, to name a few.
Fracking fluid is the scariest bit. While fracking companies (such as Haliburton *coughCheneycough*) will tell you that the fracking fluid is just sand and water, the 200+ caustic and carcinogenic chemicals that have been found in ground/surface water surrounding the operations will tell you otherwise. In Dimock, PA, (just 5 miles from me) groundwater contamination by fracking fluids is causing heavy metals poisoning among residents, who now have a hefty lawsuit with Cabot that can win them lots of money but will never make up for the fact that they will never again be able to shower in their tap water, let alone drink it.
And that’s just the beginning. That doesn’t even account for my personal connection to the problem – the hundreds of wells that are going in around my childhood home, and the rigs that light up the otherwise perfect night sky bright enough to be mistaken for an alien invasion. One night, it was snowing as I drove home. When I reached downtown Hop Bottom from Route 11, I noticed that the sky in the direction of my house was not only glowing orange, but flickering eerily. By the time I got within a quarter mile of home, I was nearly convinced that my house was burning to the ground. Alas, no, it was the neighbor’s gas wells, newly fracked and being flared.
So, if all of this bad stuff is happening, why are so many PA residents signing leases that allow drilling on their land? There are a few reasons. First, landmen (the guys who go door to door asking people to sign leases), are deceptive. They tell nobody about the huge problems that natural gas extraction is capable of causing, they tell you that if you don’t hand over your land they’ll take it anyway, and they give you a giant bonus (right now, average signing bonus is $6,500/acre, which is turning many a farmer into a millionaire). And in these economic times, who can say ‘no’ to that?
Also, in more outrageous cases, people sign leases with the expectation that when their water is ruined they can just move somewhere else with the money. This is what truly disgusts me. What about those of us who haven’t signed leases because we like where we live? When my water is ruined, and the air becomes carcinogenic, no about of money won in a lawsuit will be able to make up for the fact that my home is taken from me. So frack you, gas hole.
For a fun way to learn more about this issue, see cinematic genius Josh Fox’s interview with PBS: