Environmentalists are setting their sights on a small village in northeastern Pennsylvania and the impact hydraulic fracturing has had on the town.
Dimock, Pennsylvania, close to an hour's drive north of Scranton, is home to 11 families who received daily water deliveries for nearly three years, courtesy of Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. State regulators cited Cabot for drilling natural gas wells that allowed methane to enter the local ground water, according to the Associated Press.
Yet Cabot has insisted that the town's water is safe to drink, and a judge from the state's Environmental Hearing Board allowed Cabot to stop paying for water deliveries last week.
In response to the decision, several groups have stepped forward to show support for the residents of Dimock whose water has allegedly been affected. According to the NRDC, the city of Binghamton, New York has sent a tanker of water to the village. Due to "foot dragging" by Dimock township, however, Binghamton was not able to pay for the water and costs were covered by the Sierra Club.
Activists first gathered at New York's City Hall in Manhattan to call on New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to visit Dimock and reject fracking In New York state, reports The Wall Street Journal.
Tuesday's delivery included water from New York City's watershed, a source that activists say is threatened by the prospects of fracking. A meeting to decide on the future of natural gas drilling in the Delaware River Basin (which supplies water to New York City and Philadelphia) was recently delayed, extending the current moratorium on fracking.
The EPA recently told Dimock residents that drinking their water poses "no immediate health threat," reports The Scranton Times-Tribune.
Others aren't so convinced. The NRDC announced that it will be joining in a lawsuit on behalf of the families impacted by fracking in Dimock. Kate Sindling, a senior attorney at NRDC said in a statement:
This is about standing up to the government when it abandons its people. It's about defending the basic human right of access to clean water. These are American citizens who are so desperate for clean water that they’re pumping the water out of ponds and mixing it with bleach because they believe it's safer than what's coming out of their tap. We cannot allow this to happen here -- America is supposed to do better.
Speaking with Bloomberg's energyNOW! in November about a study of fracking contamination in Wyoming, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said, "We have absolutely no indication right now that drinking water is at risk."
She added that the EPA has "no data right now that lead us to believe, one way or the other, that there needs to be specific federal regulation of the fracking process."
Supporters of fracking have cited its ability to create jobs in economically challenged states. A new report from IHS Global Insight found that hydraulic fracturing for shale gas will "support 870,000 U.S. jobs and add $118 billion to economic growth in the next four years," reports Bloomberg Businessweek. The report also claims that the fracking industry could contribute $933 billion in taxes over the next 25 years.
Click through the slideshow below to read some of the disputed pros and cons of fracking:
Estimates by the United States Department of Energy put the number of recoverable barrels of shale gas at around 1.8 trillion. To put that into perspective, Saudi Arabia is estimated to have roughly 2.6 trillion barrels of oil reserves. Christopher Booker writes for The Telegraph that there are enough world reserves to "keep industrialised civilisation going for hundreds of years"
A blog post by the Natural Resource Defense Council explains that "Opponents of such regulation [of fracking] claim that hydraulic fracturing has never caused any drinking water contamination. They say this because incidents of drinking water contamination where hydraulic fracutring is considered as a suspected cause have not been sufficiently investigated." It then goes on to list more than two dozen instances of water pollution to which hydraulic fracking is believed to have contributed. A new waterless method of fracking has been proposed, but environmentalists are skeptical.
Methane is a greenhouse gas and major component of shale's carbon footprint. Cornell Professor Robert Howarth said about a study he conducted, "Compared to coal, the footprint of shale gas is at least 20 percent greater and perhaps more than twice as great on the 20-year horizon and is comparable when compared over 100 years."
Researchers at MIT found that replacing coal power plants with natural gas plants could work as part of a plan to reduce greenhouse emissions by more than 50 percent.
Several earthquakes both in the U.S. and abroad have been linked to the hydraulic fracturing process. One British company, Cuadrilla Resources, admitted in a report that its hydraulic fracturing process well "did trigger a number of minor seismic events."
The industry currently employs more than 1.2 million people in the U.S., and the Department of Energy estimates that natural gas resources have increased nearly 65 percent due to fracking, according to a TreeHugger graphic. Additionally, the gas industry accounts for about $385 billion in direct economic activity in the country, a Nature piece reports.
Fracking is exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act of 2005, thus allowing companies to conceal the chemicals used in the process.
Former chief of staff to President Clinton and former head of the Center for American Progress John Podesta says natural gas can serve "as a bridge fuel to a 21st century energy economy that relies on efficiency, renewable sources, and low-carbon fossil fuels."
The fracking process can require around five million gallons of water. In some cases less than a third of that water is recovered.