LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas—Earl Hatley, a descendant of the Cherokee/Delaware tribe, has witnessed the consequences of using hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” on his native land to produce shale gas.
“Fracking is harmful to water supplies, wildlife and property values. It has caused earthquakes where there were none. Since 2007, it began to tremble more and more near the wells. I can smell the foul emissions, which make me sick,” the founder of Local Environmental Action Demanded (LEAD), a non-governmental organization based in Oklahoma, told Inter Press Service (IPS).
Hatley has property in Payne, Oklahoma, in the Midwest, which he says he cannot visit anymore because of the toxic emissions from the wells. “The oil and and gas industry flares their escaping gas and also do not monitor leaks, as there are no regulations in Oklahoma demanding they do. We had the opportunity to test a few wells and found all of them were bad,” he said.
In the state of Oklahoma there are about 50,000 active natural-gas wells, of which some 4,000 use fracking. At least 200 of them are in Payne.
With similar scenarios in other states, the antifracking movement in the US is especially worried about what President-elect Donald J. Trump will do after he takes office on January 20, since he pledged to give a boost to the fossil-fuel industry, despite its impact on global warming.
The United States is the country that produces the largest quantities of shale oil and gas, which has made it the main global producer of fossil fuels, ranking first in gas extraction and third in oil.
Trump “is sending signals of the support the industry will receive, which will exacerbate the already-known impacts of fracking, such as water pollution and methane emissions,” Argentine activist Daniel Taillant, head of the non-governmental Center for Human Rights and Environment (CHRE), told IPS during a workshop on fracking in the Americas, held in Little Rock, the capital of the southern state of Arkansas.
Natural gas trapped in underground shale rock is released by the process of drilling and injecting fluid into the ground at high pressure, which fractures the rocks. Fracking requires large amounts of water and chemical additives, some of which are toxic. Drilling and horizontal fracking generate enormous quantities of waste fluid.
The waste liquid contains dissolved chemicals and other pollutants that need to be treated for recycling, and methane emissions, which pollutes more than carbon dioxide, the main culprit in global warming.
Numerous studies have confirmed the damage fracking causes to water, air and the landscape, and how it triggers seismic activity. For the fracking industry, good times will return when Trump is sworn in.
Last May he launched a plan for the first 100 days of his administration, which included giving a strong boost to the sector, despite the denounced environmental, social and economic impacts.
The program includes the removal of all barriers to energy production, including fossil fuels, natural gas, oil and “clean coal”, valued in the document at 50 trillion dollars, in what it calls an “energy revolution” destined to produce “vast new wealth.”
In addition, the president-elect promised to eliminate existing regulatory barriers on fossil fuels and promote the development of “vital energy infrastructure projects,” such as oil and gas pipelines.
Data from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) show that, of the daily US production of over nine million barrels of gas and oil equivalent, 51 percent were extracted in 2015 by fracking, in spite of the collapse in international prices this year.
The cost of extracting a barrel of oil by fracking is at least $65. Apart from Trump’s promises, the gradual rise in prices as a consequence of the reduction in production by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries since January, has encouraged the sector to continue to extract.
The growing use of fracking has sparked lawsuits over its effects and scientific research to determine the impacts.