America’s rural communities are starting to feel the pinch of fossil fuel exploration. Recent discoveries of massive natural gas stores in North Dakota have led to huge influxes of workers and equipment-filled trucks into small rural communities in the Western half of the state. In such a tough economy these developments may seem like a blessing, however, the small towns are having trouble providing for the new members of the community; moreover, communities, such as those in Western North Dakota, are beginning to say “no” to natural gas development near their towns. The modern day gold rush for natural gas points out a gleaming problem with the United States energy infrastructure.
We’ve all seen the television and internet advertisements promoting natural gas as the clean fuel of future; the truth is, those advertisements are not entirely true. Indeed, natural gas is the cleanest burning of all fossil fuels; but advertisements focus solely on the burning of the fuel, while neglecting the invasive extraction methods used to obtain the gas, and ignoring the fact that natural gas in no way lessens the United State’s dependence on fossil fuel.
Mounting evidence show a strong correlation between natural gas development and high levels of groundwater contaminants. During the drilling process, companies use a method called hydraulic fracturing (AKA fracking) to release gas stores. The process of fracking pumps thousands of pounds of highly pressurized, corrosive fluids into the bedrock to break it down. The fluids tend to dissipate throughout the bedrock layer and can find its way into groundwater sources, thus contaminating the source and rendering it hazardous for consumption by anybody. The contamination can be so bad that tap water can be ignited due to the fracking fluids in the well. Furthermore, the companies who drill wells have no obligation to repay land owner for damages if groundwater contamination occurs.
Natural gas’s slingshot into the mainstream of the United State energy sector came on the heels of the creation of the National Energy Policy Development Group (NEPDG) under the Bush administration. This energy task force, headed by Dick Cheney, quietly paved the way for the development of natural gas wells all over the country, while violating private and government land ownership rights and environmental regulations. Currently, legality of the task force is being determined in court due to significant involvement of special interest groups (particularly oil and gas companies) in the creation of the doctrine; however, while tied up in the judicial process, the doctrine is still in effect. This means natural gas exploration will continue until a moratorium is placed on the activity or the doctrine is amended.
A community has the potential to benefit from energy infrastructure development because of the economic stimulus provided to the area. United States citizens should understand that something is amiss when communities do not welcome natural gas development with open arms; the externalities of natural gas drilling far outweigh the economic benefit for rural communities, and sadly, most communities do not have adequate funds to fight oil/gas companies in court when damages occur. America’s small towns act as a sacrificial lamb while the rest of America gets cheap, “clean” fossil fuel energy without seeing the environmental degradation the host communities must incur. To call natural gas a green form of energy is one of the greatest examples of “greenwashing” in existence and a red herring for a practical, environmentally friendly energy solution for the United States. The sooner the general public can understand this fact, the sooner the United States can start making true progress in the field of renewable energy.
Photo Credit: flickr.com/photos/afiler/3825497199/sizes/m/in/photostream/