Friday, September 16, 2011

Why I am a Fracking Abolitionist

Environmental Law Society Energy Conference, 2011 , Cornell Law School        
March 31, 2011 
Sandra Steingraber, Ph.D.
(the following is adapted from Steingraber’s opening remarks at a public debate on hydrofracking at the Cornell University Law School, March 31, 2011. In her presentation, Steingraber presented a mason jar of her tap water to Paul Hartman of the Chesapeake Energy Corporation. He was invited to drink it. He declined.)

The Marcellus Shale is a graveyard. Five hundred million years ago, upstate New York was a shallow ocean full of sea lilies and squid. When these creatures died, they sank into the sediments of the sea floor and turned into bubbles of methane. To the east was a range of mountains, which eroded into this ocean. The elements they contained—arsenic, lead, mercury, and radioactive strontium--also became part of this sea floor, which turned into shale.

Thus, a mile or so beneath our feet lies a petrified fizz of bubbles trapped in rock that is suffused with salty brine and a host of metals and radioactive isotopes. As long as we leave our bedrock intact, it’s not hurting anybody—although it does contribute radon to our basements. But if we use water and toxic chemicals to shatter it—in order to bring those bubbles of gas to the surface—we open Pandora’s box.

Fracking is an unsafe practice, and it cannot be made safe.

Fracking is unsafe because each well requires a thousand tanker truck trips. With 96,000 wells envisioned for upstate New York, our icy, rural roads will fill with 18-wheelers hauling hazardous materials. Those are the same roads on which, soon enough, I’ll be teaching my 12-year -old daughter to drive.

Fracking is unsafe because it releases into the environment inherently toxic chemicals. The diesel exhaust from the trucks, compressors and condensers will fill our air with soot, smog, ozone, and ultrafine particles. These pollutants are linked to bladder, lung, and breast cancers, stroke, diabetes, and premature birth, which is the number one cause of disability.

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