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Groundbreaking Report Calculates Damage Done by Fracking

Fracking
Groundbreaking Report Calculates Damage Done by Fracking

As federal policy makers decide on rules for fracking on public lands, a new report calculates the toll of this dirty drilling on our environment, including 280 billion gallons of toxic wastewater generated by fracking in 2012—enough to flood all of Washington, DC, in a 22-foot deep toxic lagoon. The Environment America Research & Policy Center report, Fracking by the Numbers, is the first to measure the damaging footprint of fracking to date.

“The numbers don't lie—fracking has taken a dirty and destructive toll on our environment," said John Rumpler, senior attorney for Environment America. "If this dirty drilling continues unchecked, these numbers will only get worse.”

“At health clinics, we’re seeing nearby residents experiencing nausea, headaches and other symptoms linked to fracking pollution,” said David Brown, a toxicologist who has reviewed health data from Pennsylvania. “With billions of gallons of toxic waste coming each year, we’re just seeing the ‘tip of the iceberg’ in terms of health risks.”

The report measured key indicators of fracking threats across the country, including:

  • 280 billion gallons of toxic wastewater generated in 2012—enough to flood all of Washington, DC, in a 22-foot deep toxic lagoon
  • 450,000 tons of air pollution produced in one year
  • 250 billion gallons of fresh water used since 2005
  • 360,000 acres of land degraded since 2005
  • 100 million metric tons of global warming pollution since 2005

Fracking also inflicts other damage not quantified in the report—ranging from contamination of residential wells to ruined roads to earthquakes at disposal sites.

Reviewing the totality of this fracking damage, the report’s authors conclude:

Given the scale and severity of fracking’s myriad impacts, constructing a regulatory regime sufficient to protect the environment and public health from dirty drilling—much less enforcing such safeguards at more than 80,000 wells, plus processing and waste disposal sites across the country—seems implausible. In states where fracking is already underway, an immediate moratorium is in order. In all other states, banning fracking is the prudent and necessary course to protect the environment and public health.

At the federal level, the report’s data on land destroyed by fracking operations comes as the Obama Administration considers a rule for fracking on public lands, and as the oil and gas industry is seeking to expand fracking to several places which help provide drinking water for millions of Americans—including the White River National Forest in Colorado and the Delaware River basin, which provides drinking water for more than 15 million Americans.

Along with the new numbers in today’s report, Environment America’s John Rumpler added one more: the more than 1 million public comments submitted this summer to the Obama administration rejecting its proposed rule for fracking on public lands as far too weak. Environment America is urging President Obama to follow the recommendation of his administration’s advisory panel on fracking to keep sensitive areas as off-limits to fracking.

“We need decisive action from Washington to protect our communities,” said John Fenton, a rancher from Pavillion, Wyoming who last week appealed to federal officials to re-open an investigation into contamination of drinking water there.

“The bottom line is this: The numbers on fracking add up to an environmental nightmare,” said Rumpler. “For our environment and for public health, we need to put a stop to fracking.”

Of particular concern are the billions of gallons of toxic waste created from fracking, which threaten the environment, public health and drinking water. Environment America is calling on federal officials to close the loophole that exempts this waste from our nation’s hazardous waste law. Rep. Matt Cartwright (PA-17) has introduced the CLEANER Act, H.R. 2825, to close that loophole.

“The data from today’s report shows that fracking is taking a dirty and destructive toll on our environment and health,” concluded Rumpler. “It’s time for our federal officials to step up; they can start by keeping fracking out of our forests and away from our parks, and closing the loophole exempting toxic fracking waste from our nation’s hazardous waste law.”

Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.

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A plume of smoke from wildfires burning in the Angeles National Forest is seen from downtown Los Angeles on Aug. 29, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

California is bracing for rare January wildfires this week amid damaging Santa Ana winds coupled with unusually hot and dry winter weather.

High winds, gusting up to 80- to 90 miles per hour in some parts of the state, are expected to last through Wednesday evening. Nearly the entire state has been in a drought for months, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which, alongside summerlike temperatures, has left vegetation dry and flammable.

Utilities Southern California Edison and PG&E, which serves the central and northern portions of the state, warned it may preemptively shut off power to hundreds of thousands of customers to reduce the risk of electrical fires sparked by trees and branches falling on live power lines. The rare January fire conditions come on the heels of the worst wildfire season ever recorded in California, as climate change exacerbates the factors causing fires to be more frequent and severe.

California is also experiencing the most severe surge of COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with hospitals and ICUs over capacity and a stay-at-home order in place. Wildfire smoke can increase the risk of adverse health effects due to COVID, and evacuations forcing people to crowd into shelters could further spread the virus.

As reported by AccuWeather:

In the atmosphere, air flows from high to low pressure. The setup into Wednesday is like having two giant atmospheric fans working as a team with one pulling and the other pushing the air in the same direction.
Normally, mountains to the north and east of Los Angeles would protect the downtown which sits in a basin. However, with the assistance of the offshore storm, there will be areas of gusty winds even in the L.A. Basin. The winds may get strong enough in parts of the basin to break tree limbs and lead to sporadic power outages and sparks that could ignite fires.
"Typically, Santa Ana winds stay out of downtown Los Angeles and the L.A. Basin, but this time, conditions may set up just right to bring 30- to 40-mph wind gusts even in those typically calm condition areas," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Mike Doll.

For a deeper dive:

AP, LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post, Weather Channel, AccuWeather, New York Times, Slideshow: New York Times; Climate Signals Background: Wildfires, 2020 Western wildfire season

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, sign up for daily Hot News, and visit their news site, Nexus Media News.

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