4 lessons from the US for countries about to be fracked


Thou shalt not frack
All rights reserved. Credit: Les Stone Greenpeace

The
United States has blessed the world with many wondrous things: atomic bombs and
peanut butter; assembly lines and CocaCola. And now there is another American
invention posed to spread past our borders and possibly into your water supply:
fracking. Fracking is a technique that
blasts apart underground shale rock layers using water and chemicals at high
pressure. The process has allowed the oil and gas industry to reach previously
un-reachable deposits of fossil fuels, and has ignited a massive increase in
drilling across the US. It has also exposed and exacerbated the problems of
fossil fuel exploitation, from pollution and environmental degradation to the social
ills
 associated
with an economy based on resource extraction. Here are some lessons we in the
US have learned about fracking and the companies that frack us.

1)      Fracking Companies have
systematically run over communities in the US

An oil
company moves into a small village. Soon pollution and poor treatment of the
town’s resources by the oil corporation cause widespread outrage. To quell
dissent, the oil company employs ex-soldiers and military tactics. Most
Americans have the hubris to think that this would only happen in places like
Indonesia and Niger – but this is the story of rural Pennsylvania, where Range
Resources hired military personnel to
conduct Psychological Operations
, or Psyops, on Pennsylvanians opposed to drilling
and fracking.  One fracking executive even referred to people opposed to
drilling as an “insurgency”,  and recommended that other fracking
companies read the Army and Marine Corps counterinsurgency manual.

Fracking
companies are also fighting to nullify
and prevent local fracking bans
. In response to the dangers of drilling,
communities above the oil and gas fields have begun to vote on and pass local
bans on fracking. The fracking industry has fought back with lawsuits and
political pressure, seeking to overturn the democratically voted-on
resolutions.

2)      Fracking can contaminate water
and water wells and suck towns dry.


- A woman in Pennsylvania displays tap water contaminated by fracking

When
everything goes as planned, fracking contaminates huge amounts of fresh water.
In order to frack, large quantities of water and chemicals must be injected
underground - two
 to ten million gallons per well
, per frack, and each well can be fracked multiple
times. The water that gets pumped underground is purposefully laced with
chemicals to create frack fluid, much of which stays in the well, locked
underground and out of the hydrological cycle forever. What comes back to the
surface, called “flowback”, is contaminated by the chemical mixtures that
comprise the frack fluid, as well as dissolved salts and heavy metals from deep
within the earth.  Estimates from the industry indicate that drillers in
Pennsylvania created approximately 19 million gallons of this wastewater per
day in 2011.

When
things don’t go as planned, fracking fluid spills into waterways, gets dumped into streams and rivers, or leaks underground
contaminating underground aquifers.

In Texas,
the demand for water for fracking was so high, an entire
town was sucked dry
 for
days on end. Texas is now building over 60 miles of water pipeline to supply
the town of Barnhart, because of the water demands
of fracking
.

In the
UK, Water
UK, which represents all major UK water suppliers, warned in July that fracking's
"huge" use of water could cause shortages in areas of low supply,
like South East England. And more recently laid out its concerns regarding
contamination.

3)      In spite of industry claims, they
can’t predict exactly what will happen underground during fracking.

It is
important to note that the high volume hydraulic fracturing we now know as
fracking is a new process. The same fracking public relations machine that
tells you fracking is decades old and therefore completely safe, also hails an
oil man named George Mitchell as “the
father of fracking
.”
Mitchell revolutionized the process in 1997 by adding the “high volume”
part, and fracking today is done on a scope and scale that has no precedent.

Therefore
it is only recently that real studies on high volume fracking have begun.
Studies on such basic things as how far
the fractures can go
 underground
have already found that the fissures underground go much farther than frackers
thought, a troubling revelation.

Other
studies have found that the cement and steel pipes that protect aquifers from
fracking fluid fail
at startling rates
, which
can cause contamination of water wells.

4)      Fracking leaks methane and other
dangerous chemicals into the atmosphere


Methane,
like carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. But methane is 105
times more powerful than CO2
 over the short term, making even modest leaks
of methane dangerous to the stability of the climate. There is debate over how much leaks - one recent
study in Colorado found that fracking wells were leaking at a rate of 60 tons
of methane per hour, an astonishing rate.

Some fracking
proponents 
say that
gas is a boon to the climate because it is less carbon polluting than coal. But
even they admit that gas is only better than coal if less than 3.4% of the
methane escapes unburned into the atmosphere. The leakage rates in Colorado, which
amounted to 12%
,
indicate that fracked gas may be orders of magnitude more detrimental to the
health of our climate than any other source of emissions.In the US and UK
regulators plan to force frackers to limit these emissions - but we don't yet
know how well these measures will work.

Furthermore,
the gas leaking from fracking wells is not only harmful to the global climate.
It is also dangerous to breathe, being comprised of Volatile Organic Compounds
(VOCs), which cause range of deleterious health effects including cancer. Studies
have found 
significant
VOC pollution linked to fracking.

So what would we recommend to a country
and a people on the verge of being fracked?

Watch out
for unsubstantiated industry claims that fracking is safe and
environmentally responsible.  Fracking companies have spent millions on PR
efforts to influence public opinion, very successfully in the US. Read the
stories of people
affected by fracking
. Realize
it is no panacea for the climate or for the economy. And let your voice be heard.


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