Natural-gas drilling may disrupt not just the environment, but your health
AT NIGHT, BARB JARMOSKA looks out the window of her rural house and sees the flickering of flares in what was once an inky, endless sky. These 20 acres in Montoursville, Pa. - land her grandfather bought, where she once rode horses through mountains of tall pine and swam in the creek with her grandlrids - are now an industrial landscape. Since 2009, she says, as many as 40 natural-gas wells have been drilled within a 5-mile radius of her home.
Due in large part to the embrace of a technology called hydraulic fracturing (commonly called fracking), previously inaccessible deposits of natural gas trapped in tight sands and shale formations are now being mined. After a well is drilled, tens of thousands of gallons of chemical additives, water and sand are injected under great pressure to crack rock and stimulate gas flow.
The potential for contamination terrifies Jarmoska. "Can I drink my water? Can I breathe my air? Will my horses die?" Jarmoska asks. "I worry about it every day."
Today, many Americans share their neighborhoods with drill rigs, ponds of wastewater, pipelines, truck traffic and compressor stations. Some gai wells are drilled, fracked and flared within 1 50 feet of homes and schools. The Energy Information Administration estimates that there are more than half a million natural-gas wells in 31 states, and that more than 630,000 oil and gas wells could be fracked in the coming decades.
Americans "should welcome" the domestic gas boom, President Barack Obama said at a campaign event in Ohio last summer, adding during his 2013 State of the Union address that his administration "will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits." However, this rush to develop natural gas is taking place without key environmental safeguards. Congress has exempted fracking from the Safe Drinking Water Act and aspects of the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act. A subcommittee created in 2011 by the secretary of energy to study the impacts of fracking doesn't include a single medical expert.
Between 30 and 70 percent of fracturing fluid regains underground indefinitely, according to studies by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the oil and gas industry. Critics fear that over the long term residual toxic fluids may contaminate groundwater. The EPA is currently studying the issue, but results won't be available for at least a year. Meanwhile, industry spokespeople say there's no proof that fracking contaminates drinking water, and yet claims of such pollution have been settled out of court, the records are predominantly sealed.
Fracking has ignited a wildfire of debate and activism. Vermont has . banned it outright, and 348 local communities have passed measures to curtail or block it. As is the case with so many environmental movements, women are assuming a key role, fighting to ensure that domestic energy isn't coming at the cost of our health.
On the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Montana, native women are working to convince their leaders to stop supporting fracking on tribal lands. Women in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Illinois are joining anti-fracking coalitions. In a New York effort led by biologist and author Sandra Steingraber, a letter sent to Gov. Andrew Cuomo asking him to wait for studies to conclude before considering lifting a fracking moratorium was signed by hundreds of medical, environmental and political leaders, including Gloria Steinern and breast-cancer advocacy groups. …