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An update on fracking in the United States

Regulation of fracking is a national debate as political parties establish their environmental platforms for 2016. We are in the middle of a three-year ban in Connecticut on the import of hazardous wastes produced by this mode of natural gas extraction. Locally, we must remain vigilant.

Fracking is the process of injecting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals underground at high pressures to fracture shale and release natural gas. This controversial technique revolutionized American energy. The United States became the world’s largest oil and natural gas producer in 2010. But fracking delivers economic gains at the expense of our health and environment.

Up to 600 chemicals are used per fracturing, some of which are known carcinogens, including Uranium, Mercury and Ethylene Glycol. These chemicals can seep into surrounding well and surface water. There are already one thousand documented cases of water contamination around drilling sites. Energy companies attribute this to “bad practice” and not risk in the fracking process itself.

Fracking is linked to increased seismic activity, as fracturing shale can disturb fault lines. There were more than 100 recorded earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or higher between 2010 and 2013, which coincides with increased fracking rates. Compare this to an average of 21 per year in the last three decades. This includes quakes in calmer states like Ohio, Kansas and Oklahoma that typically do not see many quakes, but where fracking boomed in recent years.

Fracking is a contentious national issue. Environmentally minded leaders call for a ban on the practice, citing documented environmental damage and health hazards. Leaders like Hillary Clinton take the middle ground, endorsing an “all the above” strategy toward energy production. Many members of the Republican party endorse deregulation of fracking and expansion of the practice, citing increased production, job growth and less dependence on foreign oil.

President Obama released the first federal regulations on fracking in 2015. These included increased safety measures and making the names of chemicals used public. See www.fracfocus.org for current disclosure. These regulations apply only to federal land. The states are responsible for regulating drilling on private and state land.

There is no fracking in Connecticut as we do not have accessible natural gas reserves. Fracking creates large amounts of dangerous waste, however, with only a few options for disposal. The waste can be injected back underground into wastewater wells, or treated and repurposed. There is concern that radioactive waste from the fracking process could be shipped into the state for treatment. Gov. Dannel P Malloy (D) signed a three-year moratorium in 2014 to prevent the import of fracking waste. During this time, the various chemicals will be studied and further regulatory decisions will be made.

Some Connecticut towns are stepping ahead of the problem. Washington, Coventry and Mansfield have banned the import of fracking waste, which could be repurposed as a de-icer on local roads. Winsted can join the other local voices and support appropriate precautionary measures to keep waste out of Connecticut.

 

Selena West is an intern at the Office of the Community Lawyer. She graduated as salutatorian from the Gilbert School in 2014 and is a junior at New York University.

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