Insight into fracking and its environmental implications

By Isobel Whitcomb '17
Current Events Columnist

Fracking, the process of using highly-pressurized water and chemicals to force tightly-held fossil fuels out of underground rock, is one of the newest and most highly-contested endeavors in our quest to obtain energy. While fracking is a word that has been thrown around a lot lately in dialogues about energy, conservation and environmentalism, it is a topic that is rarely completely understood. Ignorance is not 100 percent at fault for this lack of understanding. People do not completely understand fracking because even science doesn’t yet completely understand it. To help 5C students gain a better understanding of what information is out there on this process, here is a brief primer on the enormous effect it has on our land, climate and communities.
Why did oil companies begin fracking? As a nation powered by fossil fuels, we are on the verge of the massive realization that we are running out of our primary source of energy. Existing oil wells are drying out faster than we are discovering new ones. It is this impending shortage that spurred oil companies to begin fracking. In the words of Pomona professor Ian Hazlett during his talk at Frank dining hall last week, “Fracking is a way to pick the last fruit off of the energy tree.” Because of fracking, fossil fuels that used to be virtually impossible to obtain are now at our fingertips.
Why is this a problem? We do not fully understand the extent of fracking’s ramifications on our environment, but we do know enough to surmise that it is harmful in at least three major ways.
First, it is harmful geologically. The force fracking puts on underground rock is powerful enough to trigger earthquakes. According to Hazlett, spikes in earthquake activity have been noted near oil fields throughout the Midwest, East Coast, and Alaska.
Second, it is harmful to our health. Many oil fields where fracking takes place are located in residential areas. Water injected into the ground is filled with chemicals like formaldehyde and lubricants that get into the local drinking water — things that people should never drink. Fracking also releases large quantities of methane — a gas so noxious that we install detectors in our homes to protect ourselves from methane poisoning.
Finally, fracking hurts our climate. This final crucial consequence is surprising to many people, including those who see fracking and its products as a cleaner alternative to burning coal. However, recent research has shown that over a 20-year period, the methane released by fracking traps 86 times more heat than carbon dioxide. We are already speeding towards a tipping point in our climate; fracking is taking us there at an even faster rate.
Why does this matter? If you live on planet earth, fracking is an issue that will affect your future due to its effect on the climate. More specifically, however, it is important for all of us living in Los Angeles County. While the City of Los Angeles recently placed a moratorium on fracking, LA County has not yet been that successful. Fracking is going on right now throughout the county. Not only does it pose the risk of triggering a massive earthquake, but it has already caused residents living near Los Angeles county oil fields to report symptoms ranging from nose bleeds to heart problems.
What can I do? First, educate yourself and others. Second, get involved with one of the numerous groups mobilizing to ban fracking throughout Los Angeles County and California as a whole.
Claremont Climate Justice is working to help instate this ban and is a great place to start for anyone looking to join the movement. Third, vote. Keep an eye out for a campaign led by Claremont Climate Justice getting students registered to vote in California!