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The natural gas extraction method known as hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, has simultaneously become a cash cow for unimaginably wealthy energy companies, a ruthlessly efficient destroyer of limited natural resources the United States depends on, and a disturbing new trend that will lead to massive social instability. Several reasons counsel convincingly against fracking such that it should no longer be seen as just a niche cause for environmentalists.
Fracking involves injecting millions of gallons of chemically treated water underground to break up shale formations and release natural gas. It occurs with little or outdated regulation from states and with significant exemptions from federal rules, including aspects of the Safe Drinking Water, Clean Water, and Clean Air acts. Both federal and state agencies lack adequate staff for monitoring and enforcement, to the extent that some states cannot pinpoint the number of active fracking projects within their borders.
The environmental community must redouble its efforts to compel regulatory agencies and the gas industry to clean up natural gas production. There is a strong correlation between fracking and the exploitation of immigrant works. Companies drilling new wells looking to skimp on labor costs have been caught trucking in undocumented workers to do the hard labor. These workers are often paid poverty wages and put in unsafe environments, with the underlying threat of deportation if they speak out about the insufficient pay and grueling working conditions.
Fracking also worsens economic inequality. It is an industry that’s capital-intensive, meaning most of the investment goes toward the equipment and technology, rather than the people. And when fracking wells become profitable, most of the profit goes to the owners of the equipment, not the workers who did the drilling. In addition, jobs on drilling sites are only temporary, since wells can only be fracked up to 18 times.
Fracking also pollutes the air with known and suspected human carcinogens. Air pollutants from fracking take the form of diesel exhaust (from trucks, pumps, condensers, earthmoving machines, and other heavy equipment) along with volatile organic compounds, including benzene (released from the wellheads themselves) and formaldehyde (produced by compressor station engines). Exposure to these air pollutants have been demonstrably linked to lung, breast, and bladder cancers.
Thirty-seven percent of chemicals in fracking fluids have been identified as endocrine-disruptors. By definition, these substances have the power, at frighteningly low concentrations, to alter hormonal signaling pathways within the body. Many can place cells on the pathway to tumor formation.
From contaminated water, to marred landscapes, to increased global warming pollution, fracking has been an environmental disaster. While legislators cannot end fracking overnight, policy makers can enact stricter regulations to help protect communities on the frontline of dirty drilling. The federal government can end new fracking on public lands. And for the long term, energy conservationists must protect health and climate from this dirty drilling by banning it altogether, and keeping fossil fuels safely in the ground.
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