Why New York’s fracking ban matters
The science is not in on fracking. There is lots of anecdotal evidence that fracking causes all manner of problems, including contaminated water supplies and possibly even earthquakes. But especially when compared to other conventional energy generation techniques, including tar sands and nuclear power, it is unclear if banning fracking should be an environmentalist’s top priority.
There is, for example, no evidence at all the fracking leads to breast cancer (contrary to the borrowed graphics in my Pinkwash post). Yes, there are lots of nasty chemicals in fracking fluids, and certainly lots of them are toxic. But as my toxicologist and environmentalist friend Will Forest is fond of reminding me, “The first rule of toxicology is that the dose makes the poison.” Volumetrically, the amount of these chemicals being put into the water supply may well be so tiny as to not be a huge problem.
We can still unhesitatingly celebrate the New York ban anyway, for several reasons. At the top of the list is that fracking technology in the US has been promoted by the oil industry with a principal focus on profits. Dick Cheney famously exempted fracking companies from the Clean Water Act, creating what is oft referred to as the Halliburton Loophole, after the company he once ran. Fracking companies have successfully avoided even listing all the chemicals they use in the process, siting the importance of their “trade secrets,” again prioritizing profits over public health, while also impeding the investigation of health science. The EPA has been a tool of the oil industry, and not just under Bush/Cheney, revising their critical findings almost whenever the industry complains.
Gasoline prices in the US are low, largely because of fracking. The US enjoys a significant competitive advantage over both Europe and Japan, with natural gas prices of 1/3 to 1/4 respectively. The oil industry estimates that unconventional oil and gas production will more than double the current 1.7 million jobs it provides by 2035. But none of this economic “good news” should change our mind about the NY fracking ban, or any other state’s effort to ban this controversial process.
What is the absolute worst case here? Let’s assume the industry is right. If it turns out that there are no or only minimal environmental effects due to fracking, the science comes in and proves that this fear-based campaign to stop fracking in New York was a complete mistake. Then the fantastically powerful oil industry will simply get the next governor of NY to reverse the ban (which they’ll likely attempt anyway) and all that will have been lost is next quarters profits.
We can afford to wait.