Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) must be completely banned. The Earth is barreling towards severe green house gas induced climate change and is flirting with the tipping point towards unstoppable disaster. Now is the time to actively work towards zero dependence on fossil fuels; it is not the time to expand dirty and violent extraction practices. Although there may have been a time when the technology of fracking for natural gas was beneficial to the environmental movement, it has, as human advancements tend to do, spread too quickly and haphazardly to remain useful.
It is true that many people support the practice of fracking and believe that it has provided and continues to provide many benefits to our economy, society, and even the environment. People are generally happy when gas prices fall and feel safe when our dependency on foreign oil declines. Many jobs have been created from the fracking boom and wealth has been distributed into some previously impoverished areas. Furthermore, the prominence of fracking has undoubtedly improved life and profits for people in the industry, all while helping to lift the United States out of the Great Recession and aid the slow dissolution of the coal industry. However these points mark nothing but a thin silver lining surrounding a plethora of environmental offenses, which renders fracking obsolete.
Fracking is a ferocious exercise. The sheer force it takes to splinter deep rock that has been intact for millions of years can be seen as destructive and wrong. However, the more tangible environmental problems that arise around fracking affect the people who live closest to it. Fracking chemicals are toxic and cannot be completely contained. There have been numerous accounts of water pollution and air pollution associated with fracking. This has been making people sick and driving down property values around fracking sites. It is no wonder that the entire state of New York banned fracking after seeing its effects in the nearby Appalachian region. However, supporters of fracking continue to insist that its big picture socioeconomic benefits outweigh the costs.
Perhaps if this issue were truly just about weighing local environmental risks against global economics and dependency on foreign oil, this would be a much more difficult and nuanced decision. However, in light of the recent discoveries surrounding the amount of methane leaked throughout the fracking process, as well as our unrelenting need to get off fossil fuels to avoid climate change, the answer is fairly clear. We must keep the remaining stores of fossil fuels in the ground.
Federal legislation should be instituted to put a moratorium on the creation of any new fracking operations. Furthermore, the ongoing extraction of fossil fuels by means of fracking should be heavily taxed, with revenues going to support scientific research into best practices for plugging methane leaks from fracked locations and to individuals and communities that have been negatively impacted by fracking. This will undoubtedly be sweeping legislation that will have many critics from all sides of the table – but there is some freedom awarded to those who refuse to compromise. Therefore, it might be advantageous to also implement a greenhouse gas extraction and emissions cap for the United States at the same time.
This cap could start higher and then be reduced, according to recommendations from leading experts and the IPCC. In order for companies to extract fossil fuels they will be required to purchase permits from the government. Similar to any other permitting system, there will be only as many permits available as required to stay within the cap. These permits will be limited, and therefore extremely valuable. Thus the government will be able to charge essentially as much as it wants. The profits that will come in from these permits will be enormous. Half of the profits should be invested in improving the infrastructure of the United State and making it more sustainable. This includes better transportation systems, housing, and of course huge progress in the renewable energy sector in order to keep up with rising fossil fuel prices and declining access to that energy source. The other half of the profits should be redistributed to the general public on a per capita basis, in order to offset the rising cost of living associated with the capping system. This will amount to a huge redistribution of wealth and help to fight against the social inequities associated with climate change.
Nothing is free or easy. In order to create real change problems must be tackled head-on. The United States needs to quit its addiction to fossil fuels immediately and lead the world into a more just, sustainable, and renewable future. My policy recommendation may seem to be pie in the sky, but widespread action is what we need to avoid climate catastrophe and earn a better future.