When fire flows from the tap

March 27, 2010

It doesn’t take a genius to know that tap water is not meant to catch on fire. Yet, for some who live near natural gas drilling stations in the United States, it is very much a reality.

Natural gas has been billed as a “clean” and inexpensive form of energy. But, when it is extracted from the ground through a process called fracking, it can contaminate nearby water supplies, pollute the air and cause serious negative health impacts for both the humans and animals who live nearby.

And, as many who live near fracking sites have discovered, their water not only looks, smells and tastes funny, but it also can be lit on fire.

To extract natural gas through fracking, water and a secret cocktail of hundreds of hazardous chemicals are pumped deep into the earth. An EPA report in 2004 determined that fracking did not pose a threat to drinking water and Congress exempted fracking fluids from the Safe Drinking Water Act in 2005.

Last week the EPA announced that it would revisit fracking’s health and environmental impacts, a major move forward for environmentalists. However, this week, reports have been leaked that the oil and gas industry has inserted language banning federal regulation of fracking into the climate and energy bill being negotiated by Senators Kerry, Graham and Lieberman.

Beyond the potential for contamination of water supplies, the fracking process itself uses millions of gallons of water. No problem you say, the planet is some 70 percent water. Unfortunately only 3 percent of the world’s water is freshwater and half of that is locked in the polar ice caps and glaciers. The world’s supply of freshwater is dwindling, a situation all too familiar in the West.

Further, according to a new report by the United Nations called Sick Water, it has been found that 3.7 percent of all deaths in the world are caused by water-related illnesses. Considering that while cheap energy is nice, we all need water to live, we must ask ourselves, why we do not step forward and demand action.

We can no longer afford to recklessly waste our water and pollute our air in the name of cheap energy. So many say they want clean energy–but what people really mean is they want clean energy as long as it doesn’t cost too much. Unfortunately, everything has a cost. The question is when you pay. Natural gas may initially appear less expensive than say wind energy. But is it still cheaper once the costs from things like the human health toll, air pollution and the destruction of nearby watersheds are included?

So, we must ask ourselves: do we want cheap energy at the expense of clean water?

– By Jennifer E. Cooper