Much Ado About Fracking

(reposted from Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin's blog:, dated November 14, 2011)

I recently purchased and viewed Gasland. It is a documentary exploring the hazards that come in the wake of hydraulic fracturing (aka, fracking) to loose natural gas from pockets within shale formations around the country.

One of those formations is Marcellus Shale. It covers nine states, including most of West Virginia, half of Ohio and Pennsylvania, large chunks of New York, Kentucky, Tennessee and just nipping the very western tips of Maryland and Virginia and northern Alabama. It is huge, the biggest shale region in the United States.

And it is in the cross-hairs of the big gas companies.

The problem is that extracting this gas through fracking causes alarming and irreparable destruction to the land, water, air, animals, land values, crops and, of course, people. Oh, and it might be the cause of earthquakes that are beginning to damage dams and upset other fragile natural and built infrastructures.

Exactly what damage and how much damage it does, we do not know, in large measure because, courtesy of then-V.P. Dick Cheney, fracking was made exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Superfund Act, the Resource Conversation and Recovery Act (hazardous waste act), and the Environmental Policy Act. Which not only means the drilling companies needn't comply with these protections but that no one has the authority to monitor them.

We do not know what, exactly, the gas companies are pumping into the earth to release the pockets of natural gas or how such drilling is affecting the environment and the lives around the thousands and thousands of wells. But we do know this:

  • Drinking water and ground water in areas where fracking is taking place are becoming contaminated. (The EPA recently reported that fracking contaminants were found in a Wyoming aquifer.)
  • 80,000 pounds of chemicals, most of which are toxic, are injected into each well under high pressure and remain in the ground migrating who-knows-where
  • Poisonous gases are emitted into the air through the fracking process
  • Millions of gallons of water are used to flush out the gas
  • Thousands of miles of roads with only one short-lived destination and one purpose have to be built to get the water, chemicals, building materials, people, etc to and from the well pad sites.
  • Land values are declining where fracking is occurring.
  • Banks are beginning to disallow their mortgagees from signing on with gas companies for fear that it will compromise the resale value of the house.

Perhaps not everything awful that is being said about fracking is true. But we don't know because the industry has drawn a shroud of secrecy around its operations. Two things I believe are true:

  • when big business hides behind the skirts of non-disclosure, claims exemption from the major environmental laws that have been on the books since the days of Richard Nixon, and demands that the people it leases land from must sign non-disclosure (gagging) clauses, something is very wrong.
  • if our enemies were threatening or compromising our water supply and destroying our ecosystems the way Big Gas is, we would call them terrorists.

We can do something. The Frac Act (to repeal exemption and require disclosure) was introduced in both the House and the Senate. HR 2766 and S1215. (OpenCongress is a great way to find out what is going on in Congress and tracking bills of interest.)

Senator Cardin and Congressman Sarbanes are both co-sponsors of these bills. Check on the status of your representatives. If they are co-sponsoring or supporting these bills, thank them. If they are not, tell them why they should.

To become even more involved, check out and consider joining any of the anti-fracking efforts in our region, including jewsagainsthydrofracking on Facebook.

This is that scary and that important.

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