The St. Mary’s chapter of Franciscan Response to Fracking (FRF) is a group of people concerned about hydraulic fracturing (fracking), a method for extracting natural gas from shale rock formations. FRF is part of the Social Justice Ministry and is part of the larger FRF ministry of Holy Name Province. Our objective is to educate ourselves and the public with the evolving facts about the environmental risks of the technology of fracking.
Fracking requires millions of gallons of water mixed with chemicals and sand injected into each well to force the shale apart, freeing the gas to flow up to the surface. Environmental risks exist in the many stages of this process and in PA and western states have caused contamination of the earth, water and air. We believe the massive effort to extract this gas currently underway is not sufficiently monitored or regulated and is unwise before more is known about the effects to our environment and public health. Food and Water Watch has called it a “large, uncontrolled experiment on public health and the environment.”
The industry spends $100’s of millions on lobbying and PR, but the concerns presented by anonymously peer-reviewed scientific studies and investigative journalists get little public notice. Some industry claims that concern us and our response to them follow:
Natural gas is a clean energy with fewer emissions – while it is true that burning natural gas has fewer emissions than coal or oil, this does not account for fugitive emissions during extraction and transmission of the gas. Large amounts of diesel fuel are burned for hundreds of trucks carrying water or waste and to run massive pumps. Millions of cubic feet of methane, a heat-trapping gas more damaging than CO2, are not captured in the fracking process. Unconventional shale gas development has become the single largest methane emission on the planet, ahead of animals, landfills and coal mining. When this is considered, scientists have estimated that fracked natural gas actually has a larger greenhouse gas footprint than coal.
Each well requires about 5 million gallons of water mixed with chemicals jetted into the shale a mile or more into the earth. There are about 8,000 such wells in PA alone. Nation-wide, we estimate unconventional fracking has already used about 125 BILLION gallons of clean water, contaminated with toxic chemicals added by drillers and also salts, heavy metals and radioactive materials from the earth itself. About 20%, or 1 million gallons of this toxic fluid, flows back to the surface as part of each well operation and presents a huge disposal problem. In addition, underground fluid migration, blow-outs, casing failures, leaks and spills are constant threats to our ground and surface waters.
Hydraulic fracturing is a 60-year old technology – true, but that refers to conventional fracking, not the unconventional high-volume, directional drilling that is a new technology only used since the early 2000’s. Multi-well pads and cluster drilling has only been done since 2007. This new technology is far more powerful—and more dangerous—than drilling methods used in the past. This technology uses 50 to 100 times more fracturing fluid than conventional gas wells, about 5 million gallons per well.
This technology is still developing; over half of all the shale gas ever developed in the world has been produced in the last 3 years. Because this development is new, the science on the process and its environmental impact is also very new. Almost all peer-reviewed scientific studies on the environmental and public health consequences have been published since April 2011.
Fracking natural gas from shale provides jobs – true in the short run. Most of the drillers use workers from out of state, but labor needs diminish after the wells start producing. Claims of job creation and local investment do not account for long-term economic and quality-of-life damage to the community. Road wear from fleets of trucks, noisy drilling 24-7, noxious fumes and spoiled scenic vistas all lower property values and harms tourism and recreation industries. Farmers and ranchers are economically vulnerable to pollution from leaks or spills of frack fluid and waste.
The risk of this technology to the environment is not a settled issue. It is not clear that billions of gallons of toxic water remaining in the earth, albeit in shale rock, will be harmless in the decades to come. Nor is it clear that wastes flowing back up to the surface can be de-contaminated. St. Francis considered the earth and the water our sisters. On a gut level, does it seem right to poison the earth and water for fossil energy that will be sold in a global market? To put it in perspective,
125 billion gallons of water would provide a gallon a day to 10 million people for over 30 years.
FRF will provide source references upon request.