Overheard: A conversation between two moms, concerned about the effects of natural gas development on their families’ health. One woman is from upstate New York, which sits atop natural gas reserves in the Marcellus Shale and has imposed a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing.
“We’ve got to ban fracking completely,” she says. “It is too risky, our watershed is too vulnerable–millions of people will suffer if our water is contaminated.”
The other mom is from Pennsylvania, into which the Marcellus Shale extends.
“Fine for you to talk about a ban,” she says. “But fracking is already here–and its been here for a long time. We can’t talk about a ban. We have to talk about rules. We need help. We need protection.”
Moms Clean Air Force supports the rights of communities to ban hydraulic fracturing. Indeed, the engagement, concern, and activism that leads people to fight for bans is pushing legislators into doing something else we support: creating strong regulations to govern natural gas at every stage of its development.
Incredibly, even as the US is in a natural gas boom, there are no national standards to protect us from the pollution created by natural gas development.
Recently, over the protests of much of the oil and gas industry, Colorado became the first state in the country to adopt strong air pollution rules against leaking methane (the main component of natural gas and a powerful greenhouse gas) as well as the toxic volatile organic compounds that lead to the formation of ozone. Governor John Hickenlooper had challenged the industry to clean up its emissions after four communities had voted to ban fracking outright.
For almost a year, state officials hammered out these new rules in negotiations with the Environmental Defense Fund, other environmental groups, and three of the state’s largest oil and gas producers. With the new rules, which cover a range of sources of methane emissions, Colorado will become the first state to require that companies regularly inspect for methane leaks, in some cases as often as once a month, and repair faulty equipment.
Colorado is the sixth-largest producer of natural gas; it has seen a boom — the highest oil and gas production in 55 years. With that has come a thick smog along Colorado’s beautiful Front Range — exceeding federal ozone guidelines, and endangering people’s health.
Natural gas releases half the carbon of coal when it burns. But when it leaks uncombusted, it is mostly methane, a potent greenhouse gas. For the first 20 years after it enters the atmosphere, methane is more than 84 times more potent that carbon dioxide in trapping heat, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Over a few decades, methane breaks down to carbon dioxide, which lingers for hundreds of years.
What all this means is that if emissions aren’t detected — and stopped — natural gas may not be any better for our climate than dirty coal.
Of course, methane emissions are not the only problems caused by fracking; water and chemical contamination issues loom large for many of us, as do extreme traffic and noise problems, as development gets closer to people’s homes and schools. In a study done in rural Colorado, researchers recently found that women living near natural gas wells had babies with more congenital heart defects compared to women with fewer wells nearby.
Natural gas development in Montana, Arkansas, Wyoming, Texas, Colorado, North Dakota, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio is creating an energy boom for the US — along with a challenge to our health and safety. Those of us who ban fracking in our communities still turn on the lights and power up our computers each and every day. Most of us are benefiting from the gas boom. So we owe it to the people who live where gas is harvested — indeed, we owe it to the whole world that will suffer the effects of climate change along with us — to harvest that gas as safely as humanly possible.
We applaud the hard work of everyone involved in Colorado’s breakthrough regulations — this is a step in the right direction to cleaning up our air. And we urge the EPA to create strong national standards to protect our families from all the pollution associated with the oil and gas industry.