As a correspondent for the Showtime series, “Years of Living Dangerously,” New York Times writer Mark Bittman conducted a year-long investigation into claims that natural gas, a hydrocarbon composed primarily of methane, is a way to “cleaner and greener future.” He takes viewers to Colorado, one of the top oil and gas producing states in the country.
While there Bittman learns that methane is indeed far less dirty than coal or oil. But, as Tony Ingraffea, Professor of Engineering at Cornell tells him:
“… the problem with methane is that if it gets into the atmosphere without being burned it becomes a very potent greenhouse gas — worse than carbon dioxide, by far.”
Bittman also finds that methane is leaking — unburned — into the atmosphere in far greater amounts than the one percent claimed by the industry. He tells viewers,
“Scientists found enough methane leaking from the wells in the Denver basin to practically outweigh any near-term environmental benefits natural gas may have over coal.”
The segment, “Chasing Methane,” includes a behind–the-scenes profile of Laura Fronckiewicz, who had moved to Colorado just before her first son was born. Driving through her quiet, family-filled neighborhood, she saw a sign for an upcoming zoning meeting about oil and gas drilling in her area. She immediately became concerned about the health effects.
Her research revealed plenty of reason to worry. In a recent phone interview, Laura described the findings of a study done in Colorado,
“There is evidence that some of the releases from the well sites are air pollutants that contain endocrine-disrupting chemicals. It is scary that we could be changing the biology of our bodies and of our families.”
Not only that, another study — that found a higher cancer rate for residents within a half mile of a well — hit even closer to home. She explains,
“A well being proposed in Broomfield was about that difference from my house and even closer than that to an elementary school and to a school being expanded to K-12 that would house a couple of hundred of students day in and day out. They were looking to drill 25-30 wells in three different sites.”
Fronckiewicz quickly realized that attending meetings wasn’t enough: She had to take action. Since her appearance on “Years,” she, along with other parents have waged an uphill battle to place a citizen’s initiative on the ballot that would force their local city council to study the health effects of the drilling and update its regulations accordingly. The initiative won by a narrow margin, but the battle is far from over. “It’s a battle we can’t afford to lose, so we won’t,” she asserts.
And it’s one she and her neighbors couldn’t ignore even if they wanted to. Ozone, a byproduct of the drilling process is often visible. Now the mother of two boys, Fronckiewicz wants them to spend their childhood playing outdoors in fresh air, but she says,
“The Flatirons are out there, but so many days you can’t see them because the ozone is so thick. They [children] can’t play outside. The importance of clean air cannot be overstated. It’s so important to our kids’ health.”
As a new mother, Laura Fronckiewicz never expected to add environmental activism to her already overfull schedule, but like most moms, she’ll do what’s necessary to protect the health of her children. Her advice to parents is unequivocal,
“Speak out. There are so many more people who agree with you than you realize. And so many who are misinformed. Most people we talked to in Broomfield didn’t know that there was any oil or gas drilling in our town…The worst thing you can do is stay silent on the issue. It’s hurting a lot of people. The first time you speak, you’ll be a little nervous, but then you realize that these are people too and they aren’t as well informed as you think. Spread the information.”