A railroad company wouldn’t spend buckets of money to lay down hundreds of miles of fresh track if it knew that train travel would become obsolete a few years later. Nor would a fisherman purchase a brand new boat if he knew the sea was almost out of fish. Big investments are made with the anticipation of capitalizing on the expenditures for years to come. And so it is with the fossil fuel industry, as it currently seeks to frack new oil and gas fields, construct new pipelines to transport the bounty, and develop new markets to sell its product for the decades needed to recoup investment and turn a profit.
Yet we know, because science has confirmed it, that we have only 10 to 12 years in which to nearly eliminate greenhouse gas emissions in order to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change. This requires an aggressive transformation of our society — a rapid transition to clean, renewable energy sources, and a quick dismissal of fossil fuels. So, what of the industry push to invest billions for new fossil fuel infrastructure that would tether us to oil and gas for decades more? It must be stopped cold. The most effective, expedient way to achieve this is by cutting off the industry at its source — by banning fracking.
More than 80 percent of natural gas and nearly 60 percent of oil produced in the U.S. is derived from fracking, the extreme drilling and extraction method that entails blasting millions of gallons of water, sand and highly toxic chemicals underground at immense pressure to break up rock and release fossil fuels to the surface. Hundreds of scientific studies have connected fracking to air and water contamination and severe human health effects where it occurs. Among the dozens of chemicals used in fracking fluid cocktails are known carcinogens and endocrine disruptors.
In New York and Maryland, states where fracking was imminently feasible, respective governors from both political parties that banned the practice specifically cited the risks to water and public health in justifying those statewide bans.
The immediate health threat from fracking should be reason enough to ban it everywhere. But as we know from ever-hotter summers, ever-higher seas, ever-stronger hurricanes and always-burning wildfires, there is so much more to the story now.
Fracked natural gas is often touted by fossil fuel apologists — including Democrats like former Vice President Joe Biden — as a “bridge fuel,” purportedly carrying us sensibly toward a renewable energy future. In fact, it is a bridge to climate destruction. Methane, the primary component of natural gas, is 80 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. Even conservative estimates from industry-aligned organizations indicate that methane leakage rates throughout existing fracking operations completely nullify any purported climate benefits of utilizing gas over oil or coal.
Needless to say, continuing to frack at the current pace would doom our planet to a future of grim climate chaos. But the current pace isn’t even our greatest concern. At a time we should be shutting existing wells and pipelines down, the industry seeks to build scores of new ones. A report from Food & Water Action found that more than 700 fracked gas infrastructure projects — including gas-fired power plants, petrochemical/plastics facilities and liquid natural gas (LNG) export terminals — have been recently built or proposed for development in the U.S.:
- The plastics industry, enabled by a glut of inexpensive fracked gas, is projected to add 28 million tons of plastic production this decade, with more than $202 billion slated for investment in 333 new or expanded facilities. This investment is expected to drive a 40 percent increase in global plastic production over the next decade.
- The electric power industry plans to develop 364 new fracked gas-fired plants by 2022. Already, gas deliveries to power plants increased 57 percent between 2006 and 2017.
- Fracking companies are pushing LNG exports in order to reduce local gas supply, thereby increasing domestic prices and profit. In 2018, there were only three active LNG export facilities in the U.S., but 22 more were either being built or approved for construction, and an additional 22 were pending federal review by the end of the year.
Taken together, these projects are a means of creating artificial demand to justify the continued extraction of an Earth-strangling substance. If even a portion of these projects come to fruition, it could spell doom for the planet. Even in New York, Maryland and other states where fracking itself has been banned, these infrastructure projects, fueled by fracked gas that is piped or trucked in from out of state, are part of the problem. Only a full national halt on fracking will quell this storm.
But there is hope. The movement to ban fracking everywhere is stronger than it’s ever been, thanks in no small part to the disastrous climate and energy policies of the Trump administration and the righteously strong backlash they have sparked. In particular, a number of leading Democratic presidential candidates have taken up the ban-fracking cause and forced the issue into the realm of mainstream political news coverage and commentary.
Senators Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren all support banning fracking everywhere, though only Sen. Sanders has articulated this in a written, published climate/energy plan. Additionally, Harris and Sanders would halt all new fossil fuel infrastructure; Sanders would ban fossil fuel exports as well.
And just this month, Senator Sanders took his commitment to fight the oil and gas industry a big step further. He was the first to sign a pledge, issued by Food & Water Action, calling on the presidential candidates, if elected, to only appoint individuals to environmental, energy, foreign policy and national security positions that oppose all fracking and new fossil fuel development. This pledge is the deepest commitment yet made by a candidate to close the door on fracking and fossil fuels in a new administration.
A robust, aggressive debate about fracking and fossil fuels among the presidential candidates has come at an urgent time for our country and our planet. After all, we have only a decade or so to turn the tide on deepening environmental and climate disaster. Doing so will require an abrupt shift in how we power our lives. The simplest way to instigate this shift is by closing the spigot on oil and gas, and halting the industry push for ever-wider networks of profit-driven fossil fuel infrastructure. We must work for a ban on fracking everywhere. It’s time to fight like we live here, because this is the only planet we’ve got.
This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 220 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.