A new report, Fracking by the Numbers was released this week by Environment America Research & Policy Center and Environment Colorado. This is the first report that measures the damaging footprint of fracking across the U.S.
Fracking by the Numbers
Key Impacts of Dirty Drilling at the State and National Level
“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.”
David Brown, a toxicologist who has reviewed health data from Pennsylvania, said, “At health clinics, we’re seeing nearby residents experiencing nausea, headaches and other symptoms linked to fracking pollution. With billions of gallons of toxic waste coming each year, we’re just seeing the ‘tip of the iceberg’ in terms of health risks.”
In this report the term “fracking” is defined as:
… all of the activities needed to bring a shale gas or oil well into production using high-volume hydraulic fracturing (fracturing operations that use at least 100,000 gallons of water), to operate that well, and to deliver the gas or oil produced from that well to market. The oil and gas industry often uses a more restrictive definition of ‘fracking’ that includes only the actual moment in the extraction process when rock is fractured—a definition that obscures the broad changes to environmental, health and community conditions that result from the use of fracking in oil and gas extraction.
Included in the key impacts of fracking are the production of toxic wastewater, water use, chemicals use, air pollution, land damage, and global warming emissions.
The report is also sharply critical of FracFocus. As a result of several states (including Colorado) passing fracking disclosure requirements, the oil & gas industry funded the creation of FracFocus.org in 2011. The website is administered by Ground Water Protection Council. And the federal government is considering incorporating FracFocus into disclosure for fracking on Bureau of Land Managment lands as well. However the report points out problems with the FracFocus data:
FracFocus does not include all fracking wells in the nation, the data that are provided can be of poor quality, and loopholes in reporting requirements enable companies to hide some information. The FracFocus website does not include data on all fracking wells. The website came into operation in 2011, after thousands of wells had already been fracked and in most cases operators have not retroactively entered information on older wells. Furthermore, in many states, reporting to FracFocus is voluntary and therefore the website does not cover all wells fracked since 2011. [reporting is required in Colorado]
Fracking is already underway in 17 states, with more than 80,000 wells drilled or permitted since 2005. In addition, the oil & gas industry is aggressively seeking to expand fracking to new states—from New York to California to North Carolina—and to areas that provide drinking water to millions of Americans.
Colorado ranks near the top of the list for all key indicators of fracking threats in the national data. In addition to the 2.2 billion gallons of toxic wastewater produced, 57,000 acres of land has been damaged by fracking since 2005—which is equivalent to one third of the acreage of Colorado’s state park system.
“The data from this report shows that Coloradans are not protected from this dirty drilling,” said Lindsey Wilson, field associate from Environment Colorado. “The bottom line is this: The numbers on fracking add up to an environmental nightmare. For public health and our environment, we need to put a stop to fracking. Federal officials must step in; they can start by keeping fracking out of our forests and closing the loophole exempting toxic fracking waste from our nation’s hazardous waste law.”
In July, Rep. Matt Cartwright of Pennsylvania (D-Scranton) introduced the CLEANER Act — H.R. 2825, a bill to close the loophole exempting oil and gas waste from the nation’s hazardous waste law.
Along with the numbers in the report, Environment America’s John Rumpler added that more than 1 million public comments were submitted last summer to the Obama administration rejecting the 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.
The report also suggests measures to address the environmental and public health threats from fracking across the nation:
- States should prohibit fracking. 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.
- Given the drilling damage that state officials have allowed fracking to incur thus far, at a minimum, federal policymakers must step in and close the loopholes exempting fracking from key provisions of our nation’s environmental laws.
- Federal officials should also protect America’s natural heritage by keeping fracking away from our national parks, national forests, and sources of drinking water for millions of Americans.
- To ensure that the oil and gas industry—rather than taxpayers, communities or families—pays the costs of fracking damage, policymakers should require robust financial assurance from fracking operators at every well site.
- More complete data on fracking should be collected and made available to the public, enabling us to understand the full extent of the harm that fracking causes to our environment and health.