According to President Barack Obama, natural gas and fracking are the answers to sustainable domestic energy and a clean environment for future generations of Americans. In his 2014 State of the Union address, the president said, “If [natural gas is] extracted safely, it’s the bridge fuel that can power our economy with less of the carbon pollution that causes climate change.” But this comes at what cost? Natural gas extraction releases harmful chemicals and harms domestic populations in the name of big business—this is not the United States I grew up in.
An abundant amount of natural gas lies beneath the Marcellus Shale rock formation over several states, which could be provided to the United States. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, fracking has resulted in dangerous levels of barium, arsenic and other “hazardous substances” in Dimock, Pennsylvania’s drinking water due to natural gas extraction by Cabot Oil and Gas.
According to National Public Radio, Cabot was forced to reach a settlement of more than $4 million with the families that suffered considerable water contamination. Cabot provided all that was agreed upon in the original contract, including offering water filters for the affected households, but they did not provide a permanent solution to the water contamination in Dimock. Cabot has set the precedent for contaminating land and water without repercussions. While these families saw justice, the majority of people who are overlooked and denied clean drinking water will not.
With fracking being promoted as America’s answer to reducing greenhouse emissions, it is counterintuitive to release methane into the ground, considering it is a potent greenhouse gas. According to Huffington Post, a team of four scientists analyzed state inspections of gas wells in Pennsylvania since 2000.
They found that natural gas extraction through unconventional horizontal wells––fracking––had a higher rate of methane contamination than traditional vertical wells. Six percent of all unconventional wells drilled after 2009 produced methane leaks, while rates reach a staggering 10 percent in the northeastern part of the state where drilling is more prominent.
To add fuel to the fire, Josh Fox’s documentary Gasland shows that chemicals used in fracking include several volatile organic compounds, all of which pose a serious threat to human health. Methane is the dominant contaminate discussed in light of fracking, but why are we not talking about the hundreds of other chemicals used in the fracking process?
Methane rates are increasing in groundwater supplies due to the failure in the cement casings of fracking wells. Since the public is unaware of so many of the other chemicals involved in fracking, it is unclear if other chemicals are following the same trend. It ought to be a basic freedom to know what chemicals are being pushed into your property and water supply via underground aquifers.
“We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly a hundred years, and my administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy,” Obama said. But at what risk?
We are seeing land and water contamination in the U.S endangering local populations in the name of clean energy—it’s ironic. We continue to contribute to this pollution, and we are guilty of victimizing domestic populations in favor of big business.
Unless we find a viable alternative for extracting the plentiful resources, or companies like Cabot find a new material to prevent leaks, we will watch the landscape of the United States take a dramatic turn for the worse.