If you’ve ever driven through the parts of Wyoming where oil and natural gas extraction is going on, you can see the visible portion of the landscape that has been destroyed and fragmented. For my money, parts of Wyoming are just about the ugliest, anthropogenically altered landscapes you can find. It turns out that environmental damage isn’t limited to the above-ground landscape. Residents of Pavillion, Wyoming complained about the taste, smell, and color of their water, and blamed it on the massive number of natural gas wells in the area. Recent tests of the water show very high concentrations of carcinogenic compounds, including a chemical that is commonly used in “fracking”. Residents can’t drink the water, can’t use it for cooking, and even have been told to have adequate ventilation when they do something as simple as showering.
Hydraulic fracking uses high-pressure injections of water and chemicals to release oil and gas in underground rock formations. The energy industry is on the defensive regarding the environmental consequences of fracking. However, as a new technology, there’s very little understanding of the short- and long-term consequences of fracking. Individual states in the U.S. are proposing fracking bans, while overseas, France and other countries have outlawed the practice. Even the love-child of the conservative right, New Jersey governor Chris Christie, issued a one-year moratorium on fracking in the state…although it was in response to his veto of a bill that would have permanently banned the practice.
However, despite the increasing evidence of the environmental effects of the new technology, there are few legal limits on the practice. It seems that in the U.S., short-term economic gain, driven by the powerful energy industry lobby, trumps long-term environmental consequences. Why is that it can take years to get a new drug approved in this country, but for something like fracking, the practice can continue unabated despite our limited understanding of the consequences? Once an aquifer has been polluted, such as in the case of Pavillion, it may be centuries before that aquifer may cleanse itself of the chemicals…if it EVER does. Is the short-term economic benefit of fracking worth destroying our water supplies?
Sadly, the answer seems to be “yes”.