The Politics of Natural Gas Production
In 2010, roughly 25 percent of the nation’s energy came from natural gas, a “fossil fuel” which American consumers and businesses heavily depend on for transport, light, and heat (Squire 6). As the U.S. population increases, so do the country’s energy needs. Political debate over how the U.S. can meet those needs has slowly simmered for several decades, escalating exponentially when the energy supply grows short. Disputes over just how clean natural gas is, as opposed to coal, dominate headlines and presidential campaigns alike. During the presidency of George W. Bush, a bill exempting oil and gas companies from federal environmental restrictions was passed, thus paving the way for natural gas companies to expand production across the nation utilizing a new drilling technology, enabling easier extraction of shale gas. The drilling process of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” has become synonymous with controversy. Why? Fracking involves injecting dangerously toxic chemicals, mixed with large quantities of water and sand, into wells at extremely high pressure, to release natural gas. Promoted by the natural gas industry as a cleaner, safer alternative to coal, the process of fracking has made shale gas plentiful, which sounds to some Americans as the best answer to their energy prayers. However, the negative consequences associated with the extraction of natural gas through fracking, including environmental hazards and threats to public health, far outweigh the benefits.
Natural gas drilling can cause water contamination. In his Academy Award-nominated documentary Gasland, filmmaker Josh Fox conducted interviews with families in Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Wyoming whose drinking water from nearby wells had been contaminated, due to fracking. The “unknown” chemical cocktail used in fracking is injected approximately 8,000 feet into the ground (Rao 6). Therein lies the problem - the public does not know what exactly is being injected into the ground or what is coming back out, because the natural gas industry is not required to disclose the dangerous chemicals it uses, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not regulate the injection of fracking fluids. Moreover, not only does the drilling purposefully take clean water and add poisonous chemicals, but then the natural gas companies have to figure out what to do with all the polluted water. Considering the fracking process requires millions of gallons of water, this scarce resource poses a real threat to rural communities, especially in drought-stricken regions of the country. While the energy companies can use their overreaching political power to escape any accountability for their actions, i.e., contaminating important water sources, citizens are left unprotected.
Proliferation of natural gas drilling can take unspoiled rural landscapes and turn them into an industrial wasteland, while also affecting wildlife. The Sierra Club,...