Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Hydro-Fracking: 2012 PEC Advocacy Brief

By John Preston, PEC Steering Committee Member and Advocacy Committee Co-Chair

Marcellus Shale Drilling tower
As a new technology, fracking provides a good illustration of how the accounting system of our political-economic system is rigged in calculating the balance of costs and benefits in justifying the social and economic good of energy technology. 

The only costs counted in the marketplace are the costs of extraction, production, and distribution.  What economists call “external costs” which are the uncounted social costs, are not counted in assessing the overall benefit of the technology.  In the case of hydro-fracking, some of the costs NOT being counted include the following: 1) Road building and road maintenance for the heavy truck traffic, 2) Management and transport of the fracking fluids that return to the surface, 3) Water treatment costs, including building new infrastructure able to clean these fluids 4) Public and private health costs from toxicity and radiation that cause illness 5) Loss of green space and the ecological services provided, 6) Loss of the historic and rural character of place and 7) Costs related to the global warming and climate change caused by the unintended  release of methane. Some of these costs can be estimated, but many of these costs are unknown.

Generally, the political-economic system socializes the costs, making the public pay through taxes and through degraded life-style and health.  Yet, the benefits are privatized and flow to the wealthiest in our society.

Hydro-fracking site "man camp" for workers.
Because shale gas is a fossil fuel that adds to greenhouse gas emissions it is not utimately sustainable.  Because it takes advantage of corporate domination in the market place it avoids the norm of participation.  Because it socializes a hidden part of the cost of energy and privatizes profit it looks mainly to the sufficiency of the wealthy and violates the norm of solidarity with all peoples, and those people with the earth.

The policy stance of PEC is to place a moratorium on further fracking operations until the overall social and economic costs can be known and paid for by the industry, sufficient regulation can be deployed, and home rule (i.e. local government) participation guaranteed.  Following the wisdom of the precautionary principle, PEC believes that the burden of proof of the harmlessness to public health, the environment, and local communities and municipalities should fall upon the industry.  This burden of proof should meet certified independent scientific standards, prior to governmental regulatory permits to proceed with this technology.  It is also the burden of government to assure that regulation of this technology is technologically sufficient, affordable, and effective.

Must we choose between energy and clean drinking water?
An overarching step that needs to be taken in the natural gas industry to lessen its impact is to reduce leakage of methane. According to Natural Resources Defense Council, methane, a potent greenhouse gas which makes up as much as 90 percent of natural gas, is leaked or vented to the atmosphere when natural gas is extracted by hydro-fracking and other techniques, processed, and transported. Problems include poorly sealed equipment and losses during compression of natural gas. There are ten technically proven, commercially available, and profitable methane emission control technologies that could collectively capture 80 percent of the wasted methane emissions. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), other federal agencies, and the states should require use of these technologies for methane control.

US Department of  Energy  2009  Modern Shale Gas Development in the United States  Primer -
Fractracker, a clearinghouse of shale gas information.
Fracking Resource Guide
Sourcewatch has a helpful history of fracking and policy background at
Study of drinking water contamination from fracking in North Carolina by Duke University .
Leaking Profits (reducing methane gas leakage), Natural Resources Defense Council,
Interfaith Power and Light Policy on Natural Gas Development and Hydraulic Fracturing.

Organizations and Campaigns.  
Note: Endorsement is not applied by listing in this section. These are starting places for PEC members to connect with local and national campaigns and are not exhaustive. Please e-mail PEC at to let us know about campaigns you are involved with.
Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Hydrofracking Center. (New York)

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