Everything You Need to Know About the Fight Against Fracking in Western PA

Fracking is the driving force behind the oil and gas industry, but it comes at a heavy price for the environment. Here’s the rundown of what you need to know.

Fracking has completely changed the oil and gas industry in the United States, but in the face of efforts towards a more green country and a lower environmental impact on the Earth, it is the enemy. There are over 7,700 active wells in Pennsylvania, one of the biggest hotspots for fracking activity, and activists are in a race against time. This guide lays out everything you need to know, from what fracking is, to why the fight against it is so important. 

What Even is Fracking?

The practice of fracking has been ongoing for centuries.

A lit torch melting wire.
Natural gas and oil are used for quite a few things in our daily lives, like cooking and heating.

If you listen to even a few seconds of politics, especially in the context of environmental impacts, you may have heard about “fracking.” In Western Pennsylvania, there is an ongoing division between pro-fracking groups, who view it as a vast job market that promises economic and job growth, and anti-fracking groups, who recognize the detrimental effects that fracking has on the environment and even our own health, which greatly outweigh any economical benefits.

Fracking is essentially a technique used to extract oil and natural gas. The process entails   large machines drilling deep into and underneath the ground, blasting sometimes millions of gallons of water and other chemicals in fluid form to break the rock underground, where the oil and natural gas lie and can then be released up to the surface. 

In the 2020 election, fracking was one of the pillars of voter’s decisions towards a specific candidate. There have been numerous sources of correct, unbiased information running up against sources that have spread misinformation. With political debates about fracking still running on the top of modern-day discussions, it is important to know the basics and the facts about fracking, its abundance in Pennsylvania, and why the fight against it is not a threat against jobs, but a protection for residents and the Earth. 

Fracking in Western Pennsylvania

Some 30 counties in PA have active fracking sites. 

The natural gas and oil industry in Pennsylvania has been booming, with thousands and thousands of wells actively digging for gas and oil, using millions of gallons of water and harmful chemicals in the process. 

So, why exactly is fracking so abundant in Western Pennsylvania?

The answer is actually quite simple. Pennsylvania sits directly on top of a sedimentary rock formation, called “the Marcellus Shale,” which is often mentioned in the context of environmental reform and protests against fracking. The area contains a ton of natural gas resources which can only be accessed through fracking. The Marcellus Shale runs through several states in addition to Pennsylvania, including Ohio, Virginia, and parts of New York, where fracking is an issue as well.

A map of the Marcellus Shale, through Ohio, West Virginia, and New York.
Map overview of the Marcellus Shale. Image courtesy of phys.org.

Further, Pennsylvania’s geographic location sits on another rock formation that promises natural gas resources, called the Utica Shale. With that much of an area to cover, and that much natural gas sitting beneath the surface, it is no wonder why fracking is as big of an industry as it is in Western Pennsylvania. 

With all of the fracking going on in Pennsylvania, it’s consequently become the source of quite a few jobs, boosting the job market decades after the steel industry, a predominant booming industry in PA, came to a complete decline. As the discussions in contemporary politics center both on the job market and on creating less of an environmental impact, Pennsylvania’s fracking is almost always mentioned. There’s a two-way conflict within this topic, as residents want the job market to continue at the rate it's going in PA (with fracking being the backbone of that) up against residents who recognize the dangers of fracking and are calling on government officials to ban it. While fracking does provide numerous jobs, it is dangerously affecting the health and safety of not only Pennsylvania residents, but the earth, and that is reason enough for valid concern. 

An investigation conducted by the Environmental Health News (EHN) revealed findings of overwhelming evidence of the toxic chemicals used in fracking being found in the urine of residents near a fracking site. Many of these chemicals are also linked to causing cancer, and these chemicals were present in high levels in these residents.

EHN’s findings are quite alarming to both health officials and the residents themselves. Fracking is jeopardizing their health and safety, which poses no competition to the job market benefits of fracking. The frustrations and worries of the affected residents and residents who are trying to fight for a more eco-friendly world has led to a fight against fracking in Western PA.

The Fight Against Fracking

Residents responded to fracking’s threat to their health.

A clear biohazard bin with medical waste inside.
Urine samples proved that toxic chemicals are in nearby residents’ systems.

In response to the alarming results of the testing conducted by the Environmental Health News, Pennsylvania members of the House and Senate released a letter addressed to Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, firmly requesting that he take “immediate action in response to the ongoing harm” as a result of fracking sites. They called out his support of the Delaware River Basin Commission’s efforts to ban fracking and protect resident’s water supplies, and urged him to have the same attitude and approach when it comes to fracking in Pennsylvania. 

Additionally, the dangerous chemicals used in fracking were proven to be found inside resident’s drinking water, likely the source of it entering their bodies. For frame of reference, these harmful chemicals were discovered to be at levels 91 times higher than that of an average US citizen, and significantly higher than the toxic levels even seen in smokers, creating a response of fear and frustration from both residents and government officials. 

Extending beyond the House and Senate members, Pennsylvania residents themselves are fighting back. Several local protests have been organized and conducted, dating back to 2016 when the fracking industry absolutely blew up in Pennsylvania, and the research of its harmful health effects followed not long afterwards. The protests not only center on protecting residents and their health, pointing out their helplessness and lack of control over where fracking sites are and how they are impacting nearby neighborhoods, but also on protecting the environment. 

Why Fracking is So Dangerous

There are too many negative impacts of fracking for it to continue on the path it has been going down. 

Protestor holding a sign that reads "There is No Planet B."
Growing concerns over the environmental impact of fracking has caused an onslaught of people fighting back.

The risks and the negative effects of fracking are just as abundant as the fracking sites themselves. At the very core of fracking itself, there is the not-so-unlikely potential for gas leakage and groundwater contamination. With no strict regulation on the chemicals found and removed from city-controlled drinking water, it is a regular occurrence for the contaminated water to end up in the hands of unknowing residents who consume the cancer-causing chemicals such as benzene and toluene. Fracking affects the health and safety of nearby residents, permitting high levels of toxic chemicals to interfere with their health when there would otherwise be no issue. 

Fracking impacts wildlife and our land just as much as it impacts people, too. The hunt for natural gas and oil threatens agricultural industries, and coupled with the fact that fracking requires millions upon millions of gallons of water at each and every drilling site, the environmental impact is atrociously out of control. 

Plastic litter and waste is an overlapping environmental issue, and fracking is a direct contributor. In addition to the chemicals used in fracking and leaked into the ground, the air is impacted as well, as fracking releases methane into the air, a product that is often used to make plastic. With the massive use of plastic and its extremely high environmental impact, the trickle-down effect that begins with fracking and includes plastic is filled with conflicts and worries for the health of the Earth. 

The gasses emitted during fracking contributes to air pollution and global warming as well, two hotly debated issues that are inarguably speeding up the rate at which the climate is aggressively changing. One of the larger contributors to global warming and air pollution is fracking. 

It is absolutely crucial to address the fracking issue around the country, but also in Western Pennsylvania, where fracking traffic runs rampant and new fracking sites are opening up as time goes on. With the risks and negative impacts on residents' health and well-being, as well as fracking contributing to plastic usage, air pollution, global warming, and damaging wildlife and land, the fight against fracking is justifiable and necessary. Knowing the facts is a great shield in the armor needed to stop fracking and save the planet!

Maria Scanga

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