Frack No! Why Hydraulic Fracking is a Plastic Pollution Issue

For the past several years, vocal opponents of the industrial gas drilling process known as fracking have been lining up to fight the dangerous practice. The Halliburton-developed process of hydraulic fracturing, more commonly known as fracking, involves injecting water, sand, and proprietary chemicals into deep wells to extract natural gas otherwise inaccessible underneath layers of shale. Celebrities like Mark Ruffalo have been aggressively campaigning alongside a range of environmental organizations to raise awareness about the hazardous effects of fracking, including groundwater contamination and long-term exposure to toxic chemicals.

Conservation leaders like the Sierra Club, which once accepted millions of dollars from oil and natural gas giant Chesapeake Energy, have also taken on the issue, severing ties with the company in 2010 and refusing $30 million in promised donations. The Sierra Club’s Executive Director told Time, “The first rule of advocacy of is that you shouldn’t take money from industries and companies you’re trying to change.”

Last week, Gasland director Josh Fox was arrested for trying to film a House Science Committee meeting on fracking. Nominated for an Academy Award last year, the incisive and frightening documentary film illuminated the dangers of natural gas drilling, including groundwater contamination and air pollution. Fox was at the hearing to film for a forthcoming sequel, and this handy illustrated guide from the Gasland website shows why fracking is a questionable practice at best.

All of this sounds pretty terrible for the environment, but what does it have to do with plastic pollution? According to a recent story in plastics industry publication Plastics News, plastics manufacturers are eying shale fracking as a low-cost alternative to relying on traditional oil drilling. Already, nearly 10 percent of oil drilling goes directly to fuel plastics production. The plastics industry often points out that plastic bags are made from natural gas, not petroleum, though both are equal parts damaging to the environment. Moreover, factoring methane-producing fracking into the life cycle of plastics will mean that plastic production will contribute even more to greenhouse gases than it already does.

In order to combat fracking, broad-based support from a variety of areas is required. Fracking is an intersectional issue related to water and sanitation, air quality, and public health, as well as a plastic pollution issue. It’s also an issue that impacts people all over the world. France banned the practice in 2011, Bulgaria banned it last month, and Australia, South Africa, and Quebec currently have moratoriums on the practice. Some U.S. states also have bans in place or are considering future limits on the practice.

Miriam Gordon, the California Director of Clean Water Action, emphasizes that the loose regulations in the United States, as well as the total lack of fracking guidelines in states like California, pose grave threats. “What we’ve learned about the common experience of oil and gas operations is that havoc is wreaked on local water supplies, despite industry assurances,” Gordon says. Noting that this is an issue that affects people from all walks of life and all across the spectrum of environmental and public health advocacy, she insists, “We should be concerned. People’s lives are being devastated.”

Photo via arimoore on Flickr

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