October 6, 2011

Letter to the Editor: Rash claims in support of fracking put people at risk

Print More

To the Editor:

Re: “Letter to the Editor: Discourse on hydrofracking is hyper-precautionary”A beautiful letter to the editor was published on Thursday. Really, very nicely crafted.  Only a true Cornellian can shed ridicule on one of the country’s most prestigious reporters and debunk an entire movement in one letter.

I really do appreciate both sides of a story, and I believe everyone should be exposed to both sides before developing an opinion on something like hydrofracking.  But there’s one statement that I see consistently in pro-fracking articles: “hydrofracking is completely clean and safe. There is ZERO evidence to prove otherwise.” This is an extremely misleading claim, and is completely untrue.  These rash claims, purported by many in the natural gas industry, resemble the tobacco industry’s campaign to discredit the link between cigarettes and cancer.  And they must be stopped.

There has been one historic case where hydrofracking fluids were proven by the EPA to have contaminated a nearby water well, which the author mentioned. What wasn’t mentioned is that there have been hundreds of other cases of drinking water contamination linked to hydrofracking. However, these cases were settled out of court with nondisclosure agreements, and never scientifically proven. What’s more, a study done at Duke University found that average levels of methane in water wells close to active gas drilling sites were 17 times higher than water wells further from the drilling sites.

And there’s so much yet unknown.  There is always radioactive wastewater from hydrofracking, which has been discharged into rivers and waterways because “dilution is the solution to pollution,” a common saying in the natural gas industry according to Ian Urbina.

How much has to go wrong before natural gas advocates stop calling hydrofracking the “clean” energy of the future?  It is not clean; it is very dirty.  But the bigger question is, why are they constantly allowed to get away with these rash claims, when environmental activists are labeled fear mongers for telling the truth? The difference is simple: people would rather hear something comforting than potentially threatening. When natural gas advocates make bold statements like “natural gas will save us,” we can breathe a sigh of relief and dismiss the “hyper-precautionary hysteria” of anti-fracktivists. People believe these statements because they want to believe them.

There are many people that smoke heavily and will never get lung cancer.  But if you smoke, you MIGHT get cancer; similarly, if you frack, “hypothetical amounts [of benzene] MIGHT CONCEIVABLY migrate from shale gas deposits to drinking water,” in the words of the pro-fracking scientist himself. In other words, you MIGHT destroy your clean drinking water supply. But only CONCEIVABLY.  Even so, this is a much more accurate statement than “fracking is completely safe, no questions asked.”

I’m sure there are people who still say that smoking doesn’t cause cancer.  And that’s fine, because if you smoke, you’re only harming yourself.  But if you convince people that hydrofracking has absolutely no harmful effects to the environment or the community, you have the potential to hurt so much more.  So you better be sure you’re right.

Denise Robbins ’12