Fracking (Maybe) Doesn’t Contaminate Groundwater… So? It Still Destroys Communities and the Planet

(21 May 2013)

The highly esteemed journal Science published the article “Impact of Shale Gas Development on Regional Water Quality” on 17 May. Many (especially the corporate sector, those in Washington (redundant, I know), and the feel-good liberal “change your light bulb and you can solve climate change!” shills in the Sierra Club and such) have even more of a hard-on now over fracking and natural gas, and are proclaiming natural gas is officially the energy of the future!!!

As a liberal environmental friend of mine wrote today, “The new Science proclaims the results that fracking doesn’t contaminate groundwater!”

Er, no.
Let us be careful not to jump to conclusions here.

First and foremost, the article doesn’t posit that fracking doesn’t contaminate groundwater, but, rather, that it is unknown whether it contaminates groundwater. HUGE difference there.

As the editor’s summary states (emphasis mine):

there is little evidence that additives have directly entered groundwater supplies, but the risk remains.

Also, as it says in the structured abstract (emphasis mine): Yes,

The most common problem with well construction is a faulty seal that is emplaced to prevent gas migration into shallow groundwater. The incidence rate of seal problems in unconventional gas wells is relatively low (1 to 3%), BUT there is a substantial controversy whether the methane detected in private groundwater wells in the area where drilling for unconventional gas is ongoing was caused by well drilling or natural processes. It is difficult to resolve this issue because many areas have long had sources of methane unrelated to hydraulic fracturing, and pre-drilling baseline data are often unavailable.

I don’t have access to the latest issue, so I can’t read the article itself (gotta prevent people from learning! GO COPYRIGHT!!!), but the article seems MUCH less explicit than people are making it out to be—per usual, to support corporate interest.

All of this aside, let us presume that what the liberal shills are saying is true, fracking doesn’t contaminate groundwater… So what?

This is still only one study—and I would not at all be surprised to see natural gas companies linked to it as funders.

There are still a few vital things to consider:

1. Natural gas still must be extracted, thereby destroying the communities over which it is located.
Let’s not be those NIMBY assholes.
We’ve seen how Appalachia has been absolutely ravaged for coal. Let’s not do that again.
Seriously, let’s NOT do that again.

All of this is even more problematic when we see many of the lands that companies are targeting: indigenous lands, in particular, low-income communities, etc. We have a horrible history of environmental racism in this country, and fracking will continue proudly in that obscene tradition.

The indigenous backlash has been reassuring.

has a great collection of research on the deleterious environmental and health impacts of fracking.

Note, in particular, “Cancer-Causing Chemicals Used in 34% of Reported Fracking Operations.”

The Native American Netroots article “Fracking on the Blackfeet Reservation” states

Opposition to Anshutz and to fracking on the reservation has resulted in the formation of the Blackfeet Anti-Fracking Coalition on Facebook. The Facebook group was started by Destini Vaile, a Blackfeet tribal member who has studied the fracking process and opposed full-field development on the reservation.

Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga, hosted by the University of Auckland, released a study in 2012 titled “Impacts of Fracking on Indigenous Reservations in Alberta

Note the conclusion:

• The results of the Mauri Model unweighted data is that the environment or ecosystem mauri is effected the most by the operation. It has a diminishing mauri currently and in the long-term. The other three dimensions point towards a slightly diminishing or maintaining value on the Mauri-ometer.
• When the data is weighted for various stakeholders, the results still indicate a negatively affected mauri. This indicates the option is unsustainable, even with the large scale economic and employment benefits.
• If hydraulic fracturing was to expand in New Zealand, large scale economic benefits will not increase the mauri, as the impacts to the environment and indigenous Maori culture would outweigh any benefits realised.

For the scientific imperialists reading, the Mauri Model

was adapted to give equal consideration to the four factorsenvironmental, cultural, social, and economic. In the Hikuroa paper, the environmental factor had nine indicators, cultural had ten, while social and economic each had seven. For consistency across factors, the natural contaminants indicator was deleted from the environmental factor because it always obtained the same score under all scenarios due to no variation of natural contaminants.
The indigenous biodiversity of the lake and the hot springs was collapsed into a single indicator, because they received the same scores across most scenarios. Under cultural, the three indicators on healing, corresponding to geothermal mud, drinking water from pools, and baths in pools, were collapsed into a single indicator (they all received the same scores). The two indicators on flora collection—for medicinal or other purposes—were collapsed into one indicator, resulting in seven indicators for the cultural factor.
The seven indicators from each factor were rated on the Mauri-o-Meter (Figure 5) for each of the three waste treatment scenarios roughly 15-20 years in the future. For the sake of consistency, it is assumed that the milling and off-site disposal techniques will have completed the waste remediation in that time frame. However, for the more time-consuming operation of bioremediation, it is only assumed that the process will have been well under way and continuing to have an impact on the land at the time that the future mauri is projected for.
Each indicator was assigned a score based on how well the land may be expected to perform under the three waste treatment options. It was assumed that all the indicators are mutually exclusive, so that the effect on the land from just that one aspect (as given by the indicator) could be determined and incorporated in the results.

Mauri-o-meter

Most succinctly, the Mauri Model is a model that combines indigenous knowledges and systems of knowledge with the traditional scientific method. It encompasses “environmental, cultural, social, and economic” factors in decisions, not just environmental and economic, as do most scientific methodologies.

And, let’s be clear, not factoring in the cultural and social considerations in analyzing the effects of fracking (not to mention mountaintop removal, mining, etc.), on the people in whose community it is occurring is not “scientific,” it’s inhumane and, frankly, fucking repugnant.

2. Several of the largest energy companies that would be responsible for administering natural gas companies also are coal companies—and, as the past 200 years of history in this country would suggest, we probably should stop doing business with them, period, if we value human lives, the planet, etc.

I’ve written about this a few times, particularly re: the ABSOLUTE INHUMANITY of coal companies and Big Coal’s carcinogenic chokehold over Washington (and over all of us).

3. Most important, natural gas is not even close to climate neutral.
As National Geographic’s March 2012 article “Natural Gas a Weak Weapon Against Climate Change, New Study Asserts” posits,

Although natural gas burns more cleanly than coal, a new study argues that replacing all the world’s coal power plants with natural gas would do little to slow global warming this century. …
Switching from coal to natural gas would cut the warming effect in 100 years’ time by only about 20 percent, while switching to renewable or nuclear energy would slash the warming effect about two-thirds to three-quarters.

Climate Change is hands down the most important, the biggest, problem facing us all, as a global community. Yes, perhaps fracking might work as a transition resource from coal to renewable energy, but Washington and Wall Street are not interested in temporary, transitory investments; they’re interested in investing in new energy resources they can make profit on for decades, without having to again invest new capital.
As James Bradbury writes in the article “What Exporting U.S. Natural Gas Means for the Climate“, in the World Resources Institute’s Insights,

Without the right policies in place, expanded natural gas could just as easily displace lower-carbon energy options, including renewables and energy efficiency.

(And, note, this is a report coming from an organization that works with the World Bank.)

That fracking (perhaps) doesn’t contaminate water is good news…
But we should be incredibly concerned that this new realization will be (and has already has been) used by fossil fuel companies to move the energy infrastructure in the country from coal-based to natural gas-based—killing us through climate change just a bit more slowly—rather than moving onto sustainable, essentially climate neutral energy sources.