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In many ways, fracking is the environmental issue of our time. It’s an issue that touches on every aspect of our lives — the water we drink, the air we breathe, the health of our communities — and it is also impacting the global climate on which we all depend. It pits the largest corporate interests — big oil and gas companies and the political leaders who support them — against people and the environment in a long-term struggle for survival. It is an issue that has captivated the hearts and minds of hundreds of thousands of people across the United States and across the globe. And it is an area in which, despite the massive resources of the Frackopoly — the cabal of oil and gas interests promoting this practice — we as a movement are making tremendous strides as our collective power continues to grow.
Food & Water Watch is proud to work shoulder to shoulder with communities across the country and across the world in this effort. With mounting evidence about the harms of fracking and the immediacy of the impending climate crisis, this report lays out the urgent case for a ban on fracking.
In 2009, we became alarmed about the threat that hydraulic fracturing (fracking) posed to our water resources. Communities around the country were already raising the alarm about the ill effects that fracking was having, from increased truck traffic to spills and even tap water that could be lit on fire thanks to methane leaks from fracking wells into water sources.
Meanwhile, many national environmental groups were touting natural gas as a “bridge fuel” — a better means of producing energy from fossil fuels than coal, a source that everyone knew we had to move away from urgently to reduce the carbon emissions that were heating the planet at a dangerous rate. Communities that were already feeling the effects of the technology, or that were fighting the coming wave of fracking, felt betrayed that the place they lived could become one of the sacrificial zones — with many environmentalists’ blessing. Over the next few years, scientific evidence would mount that not only is fracking not climate friendly, but it has the potential to unleash massive amounts of methane that will contribute to climate disaster.
So we began our work on fracking with Not So Fast, Natural Gas, our report that raised serious questions about fracking safety and the natural gas rush being promoted by industry and government. That report, released in 2010, called for a series of regulatory reforms, but the evidence continued to mount. The next year, after looking at even greater evidence of the inherent problems with fracking, and realizing how inadequately the states were regulating the oil and gas industry and enforcing those regulations, Food & Water Watch became the first national organization to call for a complete ban on fracking, and we released the report The Case for a Ban on Gas Fracking.
Since the release of that report in 2011, more than 150 additional studies have been conducted on a range of issues — from water pollution to climate change, air pollution to earthquakes — reinforcing the case that fracking is simply too unsafe to pursue. In the face of such studies, and following the lead of grass roots organizations that have been at the forefront of this movement, a consensus is emerging among those working against fracking that a ban is the only solution. Not only are federal and state officials not regulating the practice of fracking, it is so dangerous and the potential so great that it cannot be regulated, even if there were the political will. This is why Americans Against Fracking, a national coalition that Food & Water Watch initiated in 2012, has continued to attract support. The coalition now has over 275 organizations at the national, state and local levels united in calling for a ban on fracking and related activities.
As this report lays out, there is mounting evidence that fracking is inherently unsafe. Evidence builds that fracking contaminates water, pollutes air, threatens public health, causes earthquakes, harms local economies and decreases property values.
And most critically for the survival of the planet, fracking exacerbates and accelerates climate change. We are facing a climate crisis that is already having devastating impacts and that is projected to escalate to catastrophic levels if we do not act now. President Barack Obama came into office touting fracked gas as a “bridge fuel,” yet mounting evidence suggests that rather than serving as a bridge to a renewable energy future, it’s a bridge to a climate crisis.
While the environmental, public health and food movements have looked at mounting evidence and rejected fracked gas and oil, President Obama and his administration have aggressively promoted natural gas and domestic oil as a critical part of the United States’ energy future. President Obama repeatedly touts domestic gas production and has said that “we should strengthen our position as the top natural gas producer … [I]t not only can provide safe, cheap power, but it can also help reduce our carbon emissions.” His Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz has close industry ties and has claimed that he has “not seen any evidence of fracking per se contaminating groundwater” and that “the issues in terms of the environmental footprint of hydraulic fracturing are manageable.”
Obama’s Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has bragged about fracking wells in her prior career in the industry and has, despite radical changes in how fracking is done, called it a “technique [that] has been around for decades,” and even implied that directional drilling and fracking can result in “a softer footprint on the land.” And the person charged with protecting communities’ water, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy, has claimed “There’s nothing inherently dangerous in fracking that sound engineering practices can’t accomplish,” all while the EPA has ignored or buried findings that fracking has contaminated water in Texas, Wyoming and Pennsylvania. Most recently, the administration and several legislators have been pushing exports of liquefied natural gas abroad to countries where it will fetch the highest price, stoking already massive oil and gas industry profits at the expense of our rural communities, our water and our climate.
This support for fracking at the highest levels has caused unnecessary confusion and created political space for otherwise-concerned environmentally leaning governors to pursue fracking. In California, Governor Jerry Brown has been supporting fracking despite his stated desire to fight climate change. In Maryland, Governor Martin O’Malley has pursued a more cautious approach, but still has spoken favorably about future production and recently referred to natural gas as a bridge fuel. In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo has not lifted a popular de facto statewide moratorium on fracking due to significant public pressure, but has also not moved to adopt a permanent ban. Citing President Obama’s support for fracking, the industry has criticized Cuomo.
Despite what President Obama and his administration claim, there have now been over 150 studies on fracking and its impacts that raise concerns about the risks and dangers of fracking and highlight how little we know about its long-term effects on health and our limited freshwater supplies. It’s time for President Obama and other decision makers to look at the facts and think about their legacy. How do they want to be remembered? What do they want the world to look like 20, 50 and 100 years from now?
We first made the case for a ban on fracking in 2011, but this new report shows that there is an urgent case for a ban. The evidence is in, and it is clear and overwhelming. Fracking is inherently unsafe, cannot be regulated and should be banned. Instead, we should transition aggressively to a renewable and efficient energy system.
Download report (2.7mb PDF)
Executive Director, Food & Water Watch