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August 9, 2013

The case against Fracking

Reuel S. Amdur

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"Fifteen years ago I witnessed a massive boiling, exploding ball of gas that had just leveled a building, killing 11 people, most of them teenagers. I thought I had learned how dangerous natural gas can be. I was wrong." Those were the introductory words by Jennifer Burke, from a sermon recently delivered at Ottawa's First Unitarian Congregation. In university, she studied biology and ecology, and she has lived in places where fracking is going on.

“Two years ago,” she related, “my employer sent me to work as a subcontractor at a natural gas company in the accounting department.  At that point I had never heard of the word ‘fracking,’ the word commonly used to describe the process of natural gas extracting called hydraulic fracturing.

“I was horrified at what I learned about this process and at the lies that were being told about the safety and environmental issues surrounding this process.  I was in Pennsylvania, but this process is being used extensively in northern British Columbia and Alberta.”  Fracking produces “about 35 billion gallons of toxic, radioactive waste water each year in North America.  Over 650 chemicals known to be used in fracking operations are known or suspected carcinogens.  This water is so polluted that it cannot be cleaned up by our current technology.  The water must be buried deep underground and permanently removed from the ecosystem.  It has been proven that this method of disposal can cause earthquakes, some of them very serious in scale, such as the last two in Colorado.”  Such earthquakes can break the casing used to drill through the aquifers to the gas below, thus polluting the aquifers.  The steel and concrete used in the casings have a 200-year lifespan.  “Even after operations have ceased, 20 to 40% of the chemicals still remain in the ground.”

“Sometimes they dispose of the wastewater by spraying it into the air to evaporate,” she reported.  As well, trucks dump the liquid waste illegally on back roads.  The gas companies are asking New York State to have the liquid used to melt snow and ice on the roads in winter.  Fracking requires huge amounts of water, resulting in drainage of local lakes and streams, she noted. Droughts have resulted, she claimed.

“Sometimes local water wells are contaminated, as residents of Rosebud, Alberta, discovered when people started getting rashes and chemical burns from taking a shower, and some people in drilling areas can light the water coming out of their taps on fire.”

Our world is starving for energy.  We know that fossil fuels produce air and water pollution.  We know the dangers of nuclear energy and of the serious problems of disposal of atomic waste.  We are now learning about the dangers from fracking.  It is time for us to focus more on renewables.  While renewables are not free from problems, careful management can minimize these.  Unfortunately, saying “no” to “all of the above” does not appear to be an option.

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