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Gibson writes: "The natural gas extraction method known as hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, has simultaneously become a cash cow for unimaginably wealthy energy companies, a brutally efficient destroyer of limited natural resources depended upon by the rest of us, and a disturbing new trend that will lead to massive social instability."

 (photo: Earth News Media)
(photo: Earth News Media)

9 Good Reasons to Ban Fracking Immediately

By Carl Gibson, Reader Supported News

12 October 14


“When the last tree is cut, the last fish caught, and the last river is polluted; when to breathe the air is sickening, you will realize, too late, that wealth is not in bank accounts and that you can’t eat money.”

“The United States is the Saudi Arabia of natural gas.”

he natural gas extraction method known as hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, has simultaneously become a cash cow for unimaginably wealthy energy companies, a brutally efficient destroyer of limited natural resources depended upon by the rest of us, and a disturbing new trend that will lead to massive social instability. Until we come together and put a stop to fracking by direct action, banning fracking in our cities and states and using clean energy, fracking will continue to deplete every everything we have until it’s too late.

Most important, fracking shouldn’t be seen as just a niche cause for environmentalists, but as a huge intersectional issue that affects everyone, no matter which issue you’re most passionate about. Fracking hurts all of us, and it will take all of us to come together and end it for good. Here are nine perfectly good reasons fracking needs to end immediately and permanently.

1. Fracking Results in Unprecedented Amounts of Earthquakes

Oklahoma, home to hundreds of fracking sites, is now more earthquake-prone than California. Between 1990 and 2008, Oklahoma had only three earthquakes per year that registered at 3.0 or more on the Richter scale. In 2013, Oklahoma had 109 earthquakes. That number has increased to 238 as of June 2014. One quake caused by drilling destroyed 14 homes in Oklahoma City, injured two people and buckled pavement. Additional, persistent quakes will undoubtedly cause more injuries, potential deaths, and damage to infrastructure, costing taxpayers millions. EPA seismologists acknowledge a very clear correlation between fracking and earthquakes, saying the quakes would stop as soon as wells were turned off.

2. Fracking Results in Extreme Water Contamination

Fracking wells, which inject water, sand, and chemicals deep into the ground to extract natural gas, inevitably create significant runoff into groundwater systems. 40,000 gallons of 600 different kinds of chemicals are used in each fracking well, including formaldehyde, mercury, uranium, and hydrochloric acid. To run all the fracking wells in the United States, it takes 360 BILLION gallons of those harmful chemicals. And only 30 to 50 percent of those chemicals are reclaimed, while the rest is left in the ground, not biodegradable. Pennsylvania, a major fracking state, has just admitted that fracking has contaminated local water supplies 243 times in 22 counties.

In California, where a historic drought has already started water rationing in major population centers (more on that in section 3), 3 billion gallons of fracking waste just leaked into aquifers containing precious drinking water reserves for residents. Josh Fox’s film “Gasland” illustrates that homes affected by fracking have flammable water. Drinking the water can cause respiratory, sensory, and neurological issues. And the situation in California is just a prelude to what’s to come if fracking is allowed to continue. In West Virginia, where 300,000 people had their drinking water contaminated by a chemical used by the coal industry this January, government officials are weighing proposals to frack under the Ohio River, which supplies drinking water to 3 million people.

3. Fracking Is Responsible for Record Droughts

Each fracking project in the United States requires as much as 8 million gallons of water to complete. Taking the U.S.’s 500,000 fracking sites into account, with each site being fracked 18 times, that translates to a whopping 72 TRILLION gallons of water to maintain every fracking well. That's over half of the water in Lake Erie. In the meantime, states with huge and growing populations like Texas and California are experiencing exceptional drought conditions, causing food prices to rise as more crops and livestock die off. Towns along the Eagle Ford Shale in Texas are seeing 45 to 50 percent of total water usage come from fracking companies. California’s water reservoirs are at less than 50 percent, and water officials say that there’s maybe 12 to 18 months of water left if strict conservation measures are implemented. Once those reservoirs run out, nobody is sure what will happen next, given how little rain California has seen in recent years.

4. Fracking Exacerbates Climate Change

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that as you deplete water supplies by the trillions of gallons, there’s less water in the ground to continue the natural cycle of water. An interrupted water cycle means less water in the air, which means fewer rain clouds, fewer crops, more deserts, and entire population centers without a critical resource, leading to widespread social instability. Fracking also puts an exponential amount of greenhouse gases into the air. Each of America’s 500,000 gas wells requires 400 tanker trucks to carry water and supplies to and from the site – that’s quantified to 200 million tanker trucks dumping tons of additional CO2 into the atmosphere every day. Methane, which traps even more sunlight in the atmosphere than CO2 and contributes even more to climate change, regularly leaks from fracking sites. As investigative journalist Steve Horn reported for DeSmogBlog, Mark Boling, an executive at Southwestern Energy, admitted that the amount of leaking methane at fracking sites concerned him greatly. One recent study that linked fracking to climate change illustrated that fracking was even worse for the climate than coal. So much for the “natural gas is cleaner than coal” argument.

5. Fracking Leads to Further Exploitation of Immigrant Workers

If you care about immigration, then you should care about fracking. Companies drilling new wells looking to skimp on labor costs have been caught trucking in undocumented workers to do the hard labor. These workers are often paid poverty wages and put in unsafe environments, with the underlying threat of deportation if they speak out about the insufficient pay and grueling working conditions. One example is GPX, of Sealy, Texas, which was accused of trucking in undocumented workers to perform seismic and surface surveying in Pennsylvania. A local pipe-building union fighting for its 700 members to have good-paying jobs claims the immigrant workers are given a less-stringent test on welding, which can lead to faulty well construction, greatly increasing the chances of a pipeline leaking into a water system. If GPX is found guilty of hiring undocumented immigrants, they face a $10 million fine, and five years of probation on each of the 20 counts.

6. Fracking Displaces Poor Communities

Pennsylvania, which houses the Marcellus Shale, is home to thousands of fracking operations. As more companies come in to drill new wells, they often displace entire communities of people who are then left homeless and broke, forced to uproot themselves for an out-of-state industry. One example is in Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania, where 32 families didn’t even know they were going to be evicted from their trailer park until they read about it in the Williamsport Gazette. Aqua America, a water company dedicated to fracking, bought the piece of land that housed the trailer park, and families were told they would be paid $2,500 if they moved out by April 1, 2012; $1,500 if they moved out by May 1, 2012; and paid nothing if they moved out after that date. As Mother Jones reported, the cost of moving each family’s trailer was between $8,000 and $10,000 on average. Residents staged a blockade of the construction, and state troopers were eventually called in to arrest anyone who refused to move. Construction has since begun where those 32 families used to live.

7. Fracking Makes Economic Inequality Even Worse

By investing in some professions that are labor-intensive, like education and construction, you can be assured that the money will create lots of jobs. But fracking is an industry that’s capital-intensive, meaning most of the investment goes toward the equipment and technology, rather than the people. And when fracking wells become profitable, most of the profit goes to the owners of the equipment, not the workers who did the drilling. In addition, jobs on drilling sites are only temporary, since wells can only be fracked up to 18 times. Fracking makes it possible for people like Richard Kinder of Kinder Morgan to make out like bandits, whereas immigrants and other non-union employees who work on drilling sites get crumbs and are routinely exposed to lethal chemicals like benzene.

While there were 135,000 more people working in the oil and gas industry in 2012 than there were in 2007, that number of jobs is negligible compared to the jobs created through sustainable energy. The solar industry alone employs over 140,000 Americans and is outpacing national job growth in other sectors by a factor of ten. The U.S. economy added one million new green jobs in 2013 alone, for a total of 6.5 million green jobs in the U.S. today. If you want an energy source that’s great for job creation, look to wind energy – wind turbines alone create thousands of permanent jobs through their production, transportation, installation, and continued maintenance. More important, wind and solar power don’t contaminate water supplies.

8. Fracking Depletes the Value of Your Home

Exxon is one of the largest companies that engages in fracking. And in an ironic twist, Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson became a fracking protester when well drilling was about to happen next to his home. Through his attorney, Tillerson said he wasn’t concerned about the environmental impact, but rather the impact to his property values. As I’ve written in the previous sections, Tillerson is obviously wrong to not be worried about the environmental costs of fracking, but he’s 100 percent correct about what fracking does to homes. A study by the University of Denver found that fracking can reduce a home’s value by 25 percent on average. And of 550 people surveyed, most wouldn’t buy a home near a fracking site. Researchers looking at 43 counties in New York and Pennsylvania also learned that a house within 0.6 miles of a fracking site that depends on wells for its drinking water rather than municipal sources saw the value of their home plummet by 16.7 percent.

9. Fracking Encourages Crony Capitalism and Monopolies

Right now, the incentives for using clean energy to heat and light our homes are next to none. Oklahoma and Arizona are even penalizing homeowners with fines for installing rooftop solar panels. This is the result of a model bill written up by the Koch Brothers-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) aimed at giving oil and gas companies a monopoly on residential markets.

Kansas governor Sam Brownback, a Republican, was originally for wind energy, before the Kochs twisted his arm. Kansas currently gets 11 percent of its energy from wind farms, and the state has invested $7 billion to date in installing and maintaining wind turbines. Kansas farmers receive a healthy $8 million in lease payments every year in exchange for allowing wind turbines to be built on their land. This all started in 2009, when Governor Mark Parkinson, who replaced Governor Kathleen Sebelius when she went to Washington, signed legislation stating that power companies must have power grids consisting of 20 percent sustainable energy by 2020.

But the Koch Brothers started aggressively lobbying against wind energy tax credits in 2013, and called for Kansas’ renewable energy benchmark to be frozen at 16 percent in 2016. Koch-funded groups spent $383,000 in ads calling for the repeal of the 2009 legislation. On July 23 of this year, Brownback began calling for a phase-out of the program, in the midst of his re-election campaign, likely caving to pressure from the Kochs. Even though Charles and David Koch are already worth over $100 billion, they still insist on closing off all avenues for cost-effective sustainable energy and steamrolling politicians who get in their way.

Whether you’re passionate about the environment, housing markets, immigration, economic inequality, or ending crony capitalism, ending fracking is a major step toward solving those social ills. It’ll take a combination of direct action, new ordinances and laws, and us generating our own sustainable energy to do it. Let’s get to work.

Carl Gibson, 27, is co-founder of US Uncut, a nonviolent grassroots movement that mobilized thousands to protest corporate tax dodging and budget cuts in the months leading up to Occupy Wall Street. Carl and other US Uncut activists are featured in the documentary We're Not Broke, which premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. Carl is also the author of How to Oust a Congressman, an instructional manual on getting rid of corrupt members of Congress and state legislatures based on his experience in the 2012 elections in New Hampshire. He lives in Sacramento, California.

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