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Fracking Follies

As it turns out, the short-term solution to combat rising costs and foreign dependence on energy, along with attempting to limit environmental damage, hydraulic fracturing, i.e. fracking, may be doing the opposite: costing the United States more, and driving up carbon dioxide emissions.

It has been debated whether fracking leads to earthquakes, pollution, and disease, among other things, but the scale of the damage may be much larger. While no judgment on fracking based on merit should be made, given the small sample pool of functioning fracking sites, a trend does appear to be emerging suggesting fracking isn’t what was expected.

In 2012 the International Energy Agency (IEA) announced the United States’ CO2 emissions fell by 2% in 2011 (92Mt), and attributed the fall to the switch from coal to less polluting gas power.

However, Energydesk reported the increased use of renewables accounted for the change, with gas accounting for just 19Mt of CO2 reductions. Also, the IEA analysis excludes “fugitive emissions” from fracking; “fugitive emissions” are gases that have leaked out of fracking sites for whatever reason, and are predominantly methane, a stronger greenhouse gas than CO2. Consequently, the reported IEA data portrays a potentially misleading impression of the United States’ success in reducing emissions, and ignored a possible increase in methane pollution.

Hydraulic fracturing may be a larger risk if fugitive emissions are contributing faster to the decline of the climate and environment, and though the extent of the damage is unknown, some towns aren’t taking any risks.

Voters in Longmont, Colorado approved Ballot Question 300, which amends the city charter to forbid both fracking and storage of fracking waste inside the city. Supporters of the ban cited the health hazards and safety hazards associated with fracking operations, while opponents claimed fracking is a safe way to continue to develop oil and gas.

Further, opponents said the decision is not Longmont’s, but rather the state. Governor Hickenlooper has supported fracking operations, but has made sure to emphasize the need for environmental safeguards.

However the state and local governments plan to handle this situation, the message has been sent that fracking is undesired in some communities.

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