FRACKING: A STORY OF UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES & COLLATERAL DAMAGES
I don’t believe that the gas and oil industry intends to destroy our quality of life and our communities. This industry provides a good yield for our pension funds and portfolios—and makes a decent return for their investors. They provide fuel to keep us warm in the winter, fuel to power our electronic devices, fuel to drive our cars to the grocery store and our children to school, fuel to transport food from faraway places so we can enjoy strawberries in Dec. in Pennsylvania. They provide the fertilizers to grow our crops. They provide “mail box money” for landowners who allow them to drill on their properties. They provide jobs.
In fact our current oil and gas industry is a marvel of ingenuity. What was once a single oil well is now a shaft that can go miles vertically into the earth, with radial arms that turn and run horizontally for 2-4 miles. Who could have imagined such a thing even 10 years ago?
Another high performing profit sector is the chemical industry, which has created chemicals for all sorts of useful purposes. According to the EPA, there are more than 64,000 chemicals that have been created and are in use, chemicals that have not been tested for toxicity and that can be combined in countless new ways. Fracking wells can use a combination of up to 1,000 of these chemicals. All but 60 of these were essentially omitted from the EPA study released in June, 2015.
But what isn’t accounted for are the unintended consequences that are externalized to the surrounding community.
- Property owners within a 1-5 mile radius may incur additional cost of insurance to cover losses in case of explosion on a site
- Surface water contamination from fracking backflow can affect human health indirectly through consumption of contaminated crops, livestock or wildlife
- Deafening noise and glaring lights around drilling rigs can make areas uninhabitable, increasing stress and disrupting sleep patterns
- Noxious odors can impact air quality for miles around
- Housing values drop and in some cases become worthless because banks will no longer provide a mortgage for their resale
- Other industries are harmed like agriculture, tourism, organic farming, hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation
- Local enforcement officials and firefighters are overwhelmed with conditions they were never trained to deal with
- Well shafts deteriorate over time and shaft leaks can occur in numerous places during drilling, releasing methane “a greenhouse gas 23 times more potent than CO2”
- Health impacts can include low birth weight babies, birth defects, and especially the very young and the elderly experience allergies, skin rashes and lesions, asthma, bronchial conditions, and cancers
- Each fracking operation requires several million gallons of water, of which only around a quarter is being recovered, depleting water sources, increasing tanker truck traffic on small, local roads, creating disposal problems
- Exhaust from heavy truck traffic also contributes ultrafine particles (36 times finer than a grain of sand) laden with metals and hydrocarbons in hundreds of combinations, degrading our air quality and creating lung infections, chronic obstructive lung disease, strokes, ischemic heart disease, and lung cancer
- Good paying jobs are created for a year or so and then the drillers and riggers move on to the next community and the next well, leaving only the permanent environmental and health costs for communities and citizens to deal with
Some people think that these impacts are just the price of doing business and enjoying the high quality of life we Americans prize, but people around the world are discovering that greater opportunity and innovation is available from “clean energy” industries like wind, solar, battery storage, and permanent, safe jobs like retrofitting homes and businesses and installing clean energy equipment. One small city in Southern France discovered they could generate more than $3 million/year with just a few wind turbines.
Most people believe that costs should be borne by the companies responsible for creating them, not left for the property owners or taxpayers to pay through their taxes or impacts on their health. As a nation, we are currently subsidizing the fossil fuel industries compared to renewable energy industries by a factor of 5:1. We, the people, have made a Faustian bargain. We can still make a new choice.
There is already national, bi-partisan legislation being considered that could allow a predictable, incremental transition from fossil fuels to clean energy sources over a 10-year period. This can be achieved by adding an increasing annual fee to every ton of CO2 at the source and returning all the revenues to American taxpayers on a monthly basis, much like the Home Energy Subsidy that Alaskans currently enjoy.
Wind, solar, and biomass already generate 2.5 – 9 times as many jobs as coal, oil and gas (for every $1 million contribution to GDP). Independent studies show that a Carbon Fee & Citizen Dividend would create more and better jobs (2.1 million new jobs after 10 years), increase GDP by $70-$85 Billion from 2020 on, and save 13,000 lives per year after 10 years due to decreased emissions and improved citizens’ health.
So we have a choice. Bucks County is temporarily protected from oil and gas drilling until 2018 under the Delaware River Basin moratorium. We don’t have to open a door, that once opened, we can’t close. Let’s remember the admonition that we are our brother’s keeper, and that allowing gas and oil drilling in a neighboring town will affect us as well.