Monday, May 2, 2011

Fracking Disputes Underscore the Perennial Struggle Between Money and the Environment

By Duane Craig

In what is being called one of the firsts in a long line of legal actions aimed at curtailing the activities of natural gas drillers who use hydraulic fracturing, (fracking), to open avenues for natural gas to flow underground, it is claimed that fracking contaminated drinking water and caused people to suffer from physical ailments. Typical complaints from people near fracking operations include breathing problems and problems with the neurological system and mental acuity.

The process of Hydraulic Fracturing or "Fracking"

Fracking & Southwestern Energy Lawsuit

The suit was filed against SouthwesternEnergy, allegedly for contamination from its fracking operations in Lenox Township in Pennsylvania. The company uses hydraulic fracturing to extract natural gas from the Marcellus Shale formation.

Negative news about fracking dominates and it’s not just in the U.S. that people distrust the process. There are also recent negative reports from Africa, Canada, Wales and France, to name just a few.
As the fracking industry tries to counter the negative news more signs of its environmental effects keep popping up. In Pennsylvania, the state’s environmental protection agency ordered Catalyst Energy Inc. to shut down its operations at 22 wells until the source of the contamination of local wells with natural gas and heavy metals can be determined. In other cases there are also complaints about damage to roads due to the heavy equipment that is used, and the overall damage to the earth from the clear cutting activities needed to prepare sites for the operations. Then too, there are worker injuries and deaths that some in the industry claim are to be expected.

Questions about Fracking

Astute people are asking some interesting questions like:
  1. ·      How much environmental degradation is acceptable in the quest to substitute one form of expiring energy with another?
  2. ·      Just how accurate are the industry’s estimates on the actual recoverable natural gas?
  3. ·      Why isn’t there much more oversight of businesses that can cause great environmental damage?
  4. ·      How willing are people to learn new ways of using energy?
  5. ·      How willing are people to fund new energy sources that are clean and renewable?
  6. ·      What is an acceptable amount of water and land pollution?
  7. ·      Are short term jobs more important than a clean environment over the long-term?
  8. ·      Who’s pockets in state and federal legislatures are being lined by the fracking industry?
  9. ·      How heavily are legislators personally invested in fracking companies? 

The answers to those questions would reframe the conversation so it gets to the crux of the disagreements over fracking. In the end, the U.S. has to begin dealing with its energy gluttony and its stubborn addiction to the cheap energy that oil, and to a lesser degree gas, have offered for more than 100 years. This is really a defining moment for not just the U.S. but for many countries.

Fracking Support

While those who support fracking would argue they do so for the country’s energy independence there are ample signs that fracking won’t come close to producing enough energy to make that happen. Even if it could, how long before that source is running dry? With the peak in global oil production, even those within the oil and gas industry are sounding the alarm that the cheap ride is ending. So, what will the world, and the U.S. do? Keep guzzling gas and oil until it finally runs dry, and deal with the economic and environmental issues later? Or will they turn their collective backs on easy money, draw a line in the sand and declare that environmental degradation for the sake of short term comfort, and monetary profit, is unacceptable.

Perhaps the end of cheap energy is finally forcing us to face the elephant in the room. Money.

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