The rapid expansion of oil and gas development across the nation endangers human health and the environment.

Gas Drilling

Drilling of the Marcellus Shale has already begun in nearby Dimock Township, Pennsylvania, and so have the first reports of dangerous spills. In September 2009, three spills of hydraulic fracturing fluid totaling more than 8,000 gallons polluted local wetlands and a creek, causing a fish kill.
photo: © J Henry Fair Photography

The oil and gas industry is rapidly expanding production across the nation, as new technology makes it easier to extract oil or gas from previously inaccessible sites. Over the last decade, the industry has drilled hundreds of thousands of new wells all across the country. These wells are accompanied by massive new infrastructure to move, process, and deliver oil and gas, together bringing full-scale industrialization to often previously rural landscapes.

The sector's growth is spurred by the use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in which often-dangerous chemicals are mixed with large quantities of water (or other base fluid) and sand and injected into wells at extremely high pressure. Unconventional development using advanced fracking methods poses threats to water, air, land, and the health of communities. Studies have shown dangerous levels of toxic air pollution near fracking sites; and oil and gas extraction have caused smog in rural areas at levels worse than downtown Los Angeles. Oil and gas production have been linked to increased risk of cancer and birth defects in neighboring areas; as well as to a risk of increased seismic activity. Constant massive truck traffic associated with large-scale development disrupts communities and creates significant hazards. The millions of gallons of water used in fracking operations not only strain water resources, but end up as vast amounts of contaminated wastewater. Fracking has been reported as a suspect in polluted drinking water around the country. And methane -- a potent climate change pollutant -- leaks rampantly throughout the extraction, processing, and distribution of oil and gas.

Weak safeguards and inadequate oversight have allowed oil and gas producers to run roughshod over communities across the country with their extraction and production activities for too long, resulting in contaminated water supplies, dangerous air pollution, destroyed streams, and devastated landscapes. Our state and federal leaders have failed to hold them to account, leaving the American people unprotected. Many companies don't play by the few rules that do exist; and industry has used its political power at every turn to gain exemptions from environmental laws designed to protect our air and water.

Time to Shift from Fossil Fuels to Clean Energy

Americans shouldn't have to trade their safe drinking water, clean air, climate, health or communities for energy. NRDC is working to build a clean energy future –- one centered on clean, safe, renewable sources of power, used efficiently, that ends our dependence on fossil fuels as quickly as possible. Energy efficiency and renewable energy must be our country's top energy priorities because they are the quickest, cleanest, and cheapest solutions to global warming and other pollution problems.

Although burning natural gas can reduce harmful pollution when it displaces coal in power plants, the extraction of both coal and natural gas is currently resulting in public health threats and climate change pollution. The full extent of those threats from natural gas extraction remains largely unknown and ongoing study indicates substantial concerns and major uncertainties. To the extent near-term use of any fossil fuels continues, we must curb emissions of harmful pollutants and implement strong safeguards for production and use of all fossil fuel energy sources to minimize risks to our health and environment.

NRDC Protects Communities from Reckless Fracking

First and foremost, that means communities should have the right to protect themselves when their state and federal governments fail them. That's why NRDC's Community Fracking Defense Project is helping communities determine whether and/or how fracking should proceed within their borders.

Additionally, NRDC supports moratoria on fracking to give states and communities time to fully evaluate the risks and determine whether it's possible -- and if so, how -- to protect against them. We have also called for a moratorium on public lands, which are not only home to America's last wild places, but public and private drinking water supplies for millions of people. While scientific research increasingly indicates fracking poses serious public health and environmental threats, a significant amount of additional independent science is critical in order to understand how to protect against these risks.

Where moratoria are not in place, we are also fighting for state and federal safeguards to provide a last line of defense to protect health, communities and the environment as much as possible. In these places, NRDC is working hard to establish the strongest possible system of safeguards for oil and gas operations, including fracking, to protect our health and environment, on the basis of the best available technologies and science. Communities in harm's way need protections right away. And citizens deserve access to the information and tools they need to understand the risks of fracking that is happening in their communities and have a voice in how it proceeds.

Priority actions include:

  1. Putting sensitive lands and watersheds completely off limits to oil and gas production;
  2. Curbing air pollution across the entire system, from drilling and production to distribution, by setting strong clean air standards that minimize methane leakage and prevent dangerous smog-forming and cancer-causing toxic air pollution;
  3. Mandating the strongest well siting, design, construction, and operation standards and other drilling best practices;
  4. Protecting the landscape, air, and water from pollution by closing clean air, clean water and safe drinking water laws loopholes, reducing toxic waste and holding toxic oil and gas waste to the same standards as other types of hazardous waste, funding robust inspection and enforcement programs, and requiring that oil and gas companies post adequate bonds or other financial securities;
  5. Mandating full public disclosure of information regarding chemicals used in fracking;
  6. Prioritizing renewables and efficiency to replace fossil fuels;
  7. Ensuring full transparency and public participation in permitting and regulatory processes associated with oil and gas development, and allowing citizens to bring enforcement actions against lawbreakers; and
  8. Allowing communities to determine their own future by restricting fracking through comprehensive zoning and planning.

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NRDC's staff blog

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