What Americans Get from Fracking

by guest blogger, Maya K. van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper

Americans get a lot out of the new technological process called hydrofracking (fracking)--but most of what we get, we absolutely don't want.

Fracking is the process used to blast natural gas from the ancient rocks that serve as the foundation of our surface lands. Each "frack" of a gas well, a process of exploding the underground rock in order to release the bubbles of gas it contains, requires an average of 5 million gallons of water per well, all of which gets infused with a toxic slurry of chemicals. As much as 80 percent of this water gets trapped underground, where the chemical-infused brew can slowly migrate through cracks and boreholes (natural and now, manmade), including into aquifers that serve as drinking water for people. What does return to the surface contains dangerous chemicals as well as a host of harmful substances the fluid has pulled from the geology it has passed through, including radioactive materials.

With as many as 32,000 to 64,000 wells over the Marcellus Shale formations that lie within the Delaware River watershed (that includes 8,784 square miles of Pennsylvania and New York), that means as much as 160 billion to 320 billion gallons of water that is no longer safe for human consumption in just this one corner of the country. The chemicals that are added to the fresh surface water are anywhere from 0.5 to 2 percent of the volume of that "frack" water, meaning 25,000 to 100,000 gallons of chemicals are introduced to the earth from just one shale gas drilling well. Multiply that by 64,000 wells and you have a lot of dangerous chemicals--and that's just the water pollution.

It takes three to five acres of land disturbance for each well pad, plus miles of roads and pipeline.  According to a new study, 80,000 to 200,000 acres of forest could be lost to the pipelines in Pennsylvania alone. Each drilling well also requires more than 1,400 trips by trucks burning dirty diesel fuel to service it. And now we learn that all this new drilling is also inducing construction of new liquefied natural gas facilities (LNG facilities), which convert the gas into a liquid that's better able to be shipped to foreign countries for a higher price than can be had in the U.S. In fact, according to a statement out of the U.S. Department of Energy, 10 percent of our daily consumption of natural gas has already been approved for shipment overseas, with an additional 10 percent to be decided upon within the next few months and likely to receive approval for export.

Invasive drilling operations, pollution spills, laws that strip municipalities of their zoning authorities, and laws that force homeowners to allow drilling under their private lands are among the insults that U.S. residents are suffering in order to service the gas-drilling industry.

Our children need the clean water, the fresh air, the healthy forests that we had as children--in fact, I think they deserve even better than we had as kids. It's time for this country to make a genuine commitment to sustainable energy, sustainable development practices, and a healthy future for our kids. Nature is a life-sustaining gift passed down from generation to generation. Let us be sure that our gift to future generations includes an energy path that will provide for all of their needs, the power they need to live a modern day life, but also the water, air, and forests they need to live, grow, and thrive.

What Can You Do?

The evidence against gas drilling grows every day. The reason legislators in Congress and a number of states are attempting to take action on this issue is that people are getting informed and speaking up. So do all you can to stay connected to the issue and to take action whenever the opportunity arises. A few key ways to speak up right now that will make a difference:
  • At the federal level, in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate, The FRAC Act, which would remove the gas and oil industry's exemption from the Safe Drinking Water Act, is under consideration. The U.S. Congress will also be considering the BREATHE Act, a proposal that would remove exemptions and ensure that critical Clean Air Act provisions apply to gas drilling.  We need to tell our congressmen and senators that we support these efforts to ensure that our drinking water and air are protected from pollution by gas drilling. Write your congressman and senators (not sure who they are? Congress.org can help), and urge them to sign on as cosponsors of the FRAC and BREATHE acts.
  • In Pennsylvania, new legislation has passed that will strip municipalities of their right to decide, through zoning, if and/or where drilling should be allowed in their communities. The power to prevent drilling within 500 feet of a school, for example, has been taken away from community officials. Write your Pennsylvania legislator to say that you oppose any steps that prevent a community from protecting itself from gas drilling.
  • The Delaware River basin continues to be frack free due to a moratorium in place that prohibits drilling unless and until the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) passes regulations that allow it. This is setting an important precedent for the country and ensuring the protection of the drinking water of more than 15 million people, including those living in New York City and Philadelphia. Help keep the pressure up and send your letter to the DRBC today urging the group to keep the Delaware River and its watershed frack free.
  • Consider adding your family to the photo album of folks who want to be protected from gas drilling that will be shared with the governors of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware, as well as the Army Corps colonel who represents the president at the DRBC. There is nothing more powerful than a picture. Add yours today.

Maya K. van Rossum is the Delaware Riverkeeper, and has led the Delaware Riverkeeper Network (DRN) since 1994. The DRN is a regional nonprofit advocacy organization that monitors the river and all of its tributaries for threats and challenges, and advocates, educates, and litigates for protection, restoration, and change.

For more from Maria Rodale, go to www.mariasfarmcountrykitchen.com