UNspOILed has covered fracking–otherwise known as hydraulic fracturing twice in the last six months and this week’s post will make a third. The initial post is titled “Maryland’s Choice: Renewable Energy of Fracking?” and it explained many of the ways fracking would hurt rather than help the state of Maryland. The following month’s posting, titled “Who Gives A Frack?!” examined the process and attempted to give an unbiased explanation of its benefits and consequences.
This month, however, is about how and why those consequences manifest.
According to Reuters, “seismologist Austin Holland of the Oklahoma Geological Survey said that not even four months into 2014, the state has already experienced more earthquakes (252) than it did the entirety of 2013 – itself a record-breaking year with 222 quakes recorded.” It should be noted that many of these earthquakes fall within category 3 meaning they’re large enough to be felt, but rarely actually cause damage.
In addition to the rise in earthquakes, there are also reports of flaming and contaminated water, as evidenced in the film Gasland, sick animals, “forced pooling”, and the obvious threats to drinking water from all over the country. How is this possible? How can it appear that our nation has proof that this is unhealthy for so many in the future whether near or far?
Well, an article written by journalist and historian Peter Montague for the Huffington Post explains quite a bit. In Montague’s article “Why Fracking and Other Disasters Are So Hard to Stop,” he outlines the three major principles of law that make fracking permissible.
1. The fracking industry does not have to prove that fracking is safe or that its benefits outweigh its harms — the law presumes that both are true and it’s up to the public to prove otherwise. This means that considerable damage must occur before anyone can prove causation and then begin to ask whether the harm is “reasonable” by a cost-benefit test. This is especially true if the activity is exempt from federal statutes and people who are harmed must rely on the courts.
2. Industry is not required to provide information that might enable the public to prove that fracking causes harm or that the harms of fracking outweigh the benefits. Claiming “trade secrets,” industry can stonewall, and it does. In 2011, a government investigation found that, between 2005 and 2009, fracking companies pumped at least 94 million gallons of 279 products into the ground containing at least one chemical that the manufacturers deemed proprietary or a trade secret.
3. The industry (and any agencies that regulate the industry) do not have to show that frackers are fulfilling the nation’s energy needs in the least-harmful way possible — that question simply never comes up. The law presumes that economic activity has a net social benefit and therefore should continue as-is, unquestioned. That legal presumption prevents society from searching for the least damaging way to live on the earth. As a result, harms multiply.
While UNSpOILed is focused on environmental issues, we’d be remiss not to also share what, like gas-rich shale, is beneath the surface. There are several organizations working to ban fracking, perhaps not enough addressing the root of so many environmental concerns, which are the laws that allow them. In many ways we have a collective responsibility to care for our planet and that reality is far deeper than fracking.