PROS AND CONS OF FRACKING
1. An abundant, clean-burning, affordable, domestic supply of natural gas that promises a non-dependent, better energy future
2. Promise of new manufacturing jobs and higher incomes
3. Clean burning natural gas is critical to farmers for fertilizer, households for heating and cooking, businesses for electricity, and fuel for transportation needs.
1. Fracking may contaminate water supplies, cause air pollution, destroy streams, and devastating landscapes.
2. Weak safeguards, little if any accountabliity, and inadequate oversight of laws and rules fail to protect communities from the harm caused by fracking.
3. Cleaner burning fossil fuels come at a high cost to affected communities.
Essay on Fracking
By Sr. Mary Cunningham, HM
Former pastoral associate at St. Michael’s
Recently I was invited to speak to St. Michael’s Social Concerns Committee about fracking, the practice of injecting water, salt and chemicals under high pressure into underground wells to release gas and oil from shale. Such a practice, which is rapidly spreading in northeastern Ohio, is complex and can be viewed from multiple perspectives.
Much has appeared in the media about the potential economic advantages of fracking as our area struggles to provide employment for residents. These advantages come with risks, especially human health risks. The federal EPA is currently conducting a national study to see what the effect of fracking has been on water, particularly contamination of drinking water. Why not have a moratorium on drilling until the new EPA findings and recommendations are published? A preliminary report is due December, 2012.
Scientists who have studied fracking also point to the danger of water and air pollution from the aftermath of drilling. An article in Scientific American, October 19, 2011, states that “drilling for natural gas has gotten ahead of the science needed to prove it safe.” Ohio already has 181 injection wells which serve as permanent underground depositories for waste water, brine and toxic chemicals from the fracking process. Portage and Stark Counties have more injection wells than any other Ohio counties. Over 50 percent of the waste comes from out of state.
I live just three miles from an injection well in Youngstown that was proven to be the epicenter for 12 earthquakes over the last year. A New Year’s Eve quake of 4.0 shook the house where I live and the entire area. As a result the governor imposed a moratorium on the well and other nearby injection sites. Reports by experts showed that more study and scientific data should have preceded that waste dumping.
Another health concern is that of air pollution from holding ponds that receive fracked residue. Aerators placed in these ponds help the toxic liquid to evaporate into the air. I have talked with persons who have suffered illness from breathing the pollution. The volatile organic compounds in fracking waste can affect the human nervous system, the reproductive, cardiovascular, respiratory and endocrine systems and cause several types of cancer. A recent spill near Youngstown leached into the soil and contaminated a nearby body of water that, when tested, was at twice the normal pH level. Farm animals have also been sickened or malformed by the toxins. It is essential to have the water tested by a certified independent lab before ever leasing one’s mineral rights for drilling.
Unfortunately, when the 2005 federal Energy Act was passed by Congress, the oil and gas industry was exempted from the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. All other American companies must comply with the environmental standards set by the government. The exemption, commonly known as the Halliburton loophole, was supported by then Vice-president Dick Cheney, the former Halliburton CEO.
While the economic, scientific, legal and medical aspects of fracking call for careful investigation, as discerning Catholic Christians, we are called to address the ethical questions raised by fracking as well. Blessed with a rich faith tradition, we are committed to shared values. We cannot help but be awestruck when we reflect on the wonder and diversity of all God has fashioned in the 13.7 billion years of creation’s unfolding. What is our responsibility in protecting and handing on these gifts to future generations?
Catholic Social Teaching reminds us that “Care for the earth . . . is a requirement of our faith. We are called to protect people and the planet, living our faith in relationship with all of God’s creation. This environmental challenge has fundamental moral and ethical dimensions that cannot be ignored.” The US Bishops then “ask the members of our Church to examine our life-styles, behaviors, and policies, individually and institutionally – to see how we contribute to the destruction or neglect of the environment and how we might assist in its protection and restoration . . .” Pope John Paul II went so far as to say “respect for life and the dignity of the human person extends also to the rest of creation.”
The Christian and democratic value of protecting human rights highlights the need for better regulation of the gas and oil drilling industry. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said in a press conference that laws regulating the drilling industry are inadequate and must be upgraded. The Ohio legislature is currently considering new laws. Advocacy by citizens is essential if we are to balance the benefits of fracking with the health of earth and human health. We can expect to see new regulations passed in the next couple of months.
I urge you to contact Governor Kasich and your state of Ohio representative and senator by phone, email, letter or personal visit. Ask them to pass drilling laws that will protect human rights and health as well as the environment. They also need to reconsider the 2004 law that strips away local control and zoning authority over drilling in favor of the Ohio Dept. of Natural Resources. In addition, you might call for the reversal of a law that sailed through the Ohio House and Senate last summer allowing drilling in state parks.
The worst thing we can do is act helpless, hopeless, or clueless. Our Constitution guarantees the human right to clean air and clean water. Does not our faith call us to action on our own behalf and that of the human community? We need to begin by educating ourselves about fracking. Two award-winning documentaries on this topic could be shown at a parish gathering for anyone interested. Both Gasland and Split Estate are available on DVD from some libraries as well as many other media resources. Consult such websites as www.Foodandwaterwatch.org; www.Earthworksaction.org; www.portagecitizens.org/neogap; www.nofrackohio.com.
Other possible action responses include talking to local officials, posing concerns to gas company representatives, consulting attorneys familiar with drilling leases, writing letters to the editor, sponsoring billboards, organizing town hall meetings for input from experts, and listening to the stories of persons harmed by fracking.
Finally, using the lens of Christian values, let prayer and reflection guide our choices. Joining with others in the parish community, we can take positive action that will make a difference. Our lives and that of the planet depend on it.