Fracked Over for Natural Gas

Research makes it increasingly clear that along with drilling for oil and mining coal, extracting natural gas from deep underground causes serious damage to the environment and to public health. On The Pump Handle, Kim Krisberg examines the contamination that may result from dumping fracking wastewater into disposal wells, writing “about 1,000 different chemicals are used in the fracking industry, with more than 100 being known or suspected endocrine disruptors.” Researchers collected water samples downstream from wells in West Virginia, and after “exposing both female and male mammalian sex hormones to the water, researchers found that the water blocked the hormones’ normal processes.” In another study, researchers found “fracking wastewater disposal wells in southern Texas are disproportionately permitted in areas with higher proportions of people of color and people living in poverty.” Meanwhile, air pollution around fracking sites may contribute to skin conditions and respiratory disease. While the science surrounding pollution from hydraulic fracturing is far from settled, many fingers point in the same direction: fracking is bad news for communities and for the planet.

At The Nation, Bill McKibben reports that unbeknownst to the EPA, “US methane emissions increased by more than 30 percent” between 2002 and 2014. The culprit? Leaky natural gas infrastructure. Although methane lingers in the atmosphere for less time than carbon dioxide, it traps heat much more efficiently. McKibben says the true extent of methane leaked from fracking means that the rate of greenhouse gas emissions during the Obama administration has been higher than previously estimated, and could actually be increasing. Fracking is also a technology that the U.S. has pushed worldwide, and we can expect to see both its local and planetary effects multiplied many times over. As McKibben concludes, “we need to stop the fracking industry in its tracks, here and abroad.”

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Beyond 400 PPM

The threshold of 400 carbon dioxide molecules per million molecules of Earth’s atmosphere is an arbitrary but still significant milestone, reflecting a near 50% increase in the concentration of the greenhouse gas since humanity first started burning fossil fuels for industry. Sure, the Earth has experienced hotter chemistry before, but Peter Gleick says it all the in the title of his post: The Last Time Atmospheric CO2 was at 400 parts per million Humans Didn’t Exist. The Arctic was also free of ice, and CO2 levels were changing 1000 times slower than they are today. Not that we can’t survive and even thrive in the midst of an economy that daily poisons and deadens the Earth, but it will be a much uglier place we have paid for.