September 20, 2011
By Br. Dave Andrews
Illness among people and livestock.
Tainted drinking water.
Explosions and fires.
These are some of the discovered effects of hydraulic fracking -- a growing, and increasingly controversial, method of harnessing natural gas for energy production.
Yet as more policymakers explore the so-called benefits of fracking, vocal opposition to the process is gaining momentum, led, in part, by voices within faith communities.
Fracking involves injecting millions of gallons of pressurized water, chemicals, and sand into the earth to break apart shale in order to release natural gas.
Some chemicals used in fracking are toxic, and accidents and spills can cause them to leak into water supplies. Residents in communities with gas drilling have reported headaches, dizziness, memory loss and gastrointestinal problems, among other ailments.
Some of the chemicals used in the process are known carcinogens and hormone disruptors.
While the long-term effects of fracking have yet to be determined, the technique is now used in 34 states. The federal government is poorly monitoring fracking practices and all too often public health and the environment concerns falls to overburdened, underfunded state agencies.
At least 596 chemicals are used in fracking, but the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not require the natural gas industry to disclose precisely which chemicals it uses. Moreover, the fracking process as a whole is exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act.
It only takes low concentrations of benzene and diesel fuel -- two compounds commonly used in fracking -- to cause serious health and environmental problems.
Fracking harms livestock as well. The director of the Food Animal Residue Avoidance Databank, a group of animal science professors that tracks chemical contamination in livestock, has reported incidents of veterinarians dealing with animals that have been exposed to fracking byproducts. In Louisiana, for example, 16 cows that drank fluid from a fracked well began bellowing, foaming and bleeding at the mouth before they dropped dead.
The natural gas industry is transforming swathes of rural America into sacrifice zones, while it pockets billions of dollars in profits. One region where fracking is on the rise is the Marcellus Shale gas field, which spreads through New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. This area is also home to many farms, meaning that fracking is endangering local economies and food systems.
Farmers in the Marcellus Shale area report that their livelihoods and landscapes are under serious threat from fracking. The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture quarantined 28 cattle that had come into contact with fracking waste water that tested positive for concentrations of chlorine, barium, magnesium, potassium and radioactive strontium.
Most religious groups recognize moral principles such as the dignity of the human person, care for creation and an appreciation for the welfare of animals. In all of these areas of concern, fracking presents a dire threat. Click HERE to read a USA Today report on religious groups' opposition to fracking.
Fracking harms communities and it harms Creation. We know little of its long-term effects, but we know enough to challenge the natural gas industry's claims of its supposed benefits.
Increasingly, religious groups are joining the movement against fracking. The Sisters of Saint Francis of Philadelphia have advocated against the process. Earlier this year, America Magazine the official publication of the Jesuit order the United States, published an editorial criticizing the practice, and parish leaders throughout the nation have held community meetings in their churches about the fracking threat.
Last year, the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the National Council of Churches, the United Church of Christ, the United Methodist Church, the Union for Reform Judaism, and others asserted that fracking poses a "threat to drinking water resource and is of concern to a growing number of communities."
Given its dangers, the only moral remedy to fracking is to ban the process altogether. Doing so will help preserve human dignity while protecting the environment and animal welfare.
FOR MORE REPORTS ON FRACKING: This summer, WBEZ's This American Life dedicated an entire show to exploring the concerns and questions that surrounded underground drilling in one Pennsylvanian community. Listen to the episode HERE.
Br. Dave Andrews is Senior Representative for Food & Water Watch, where he conducts outreach work to faith communities. He is a member of the Congregation of Holy Cross, an international Catholic religious order of men.