My childhood was financed by the natural gas industry. For over 30 years, my dad arose at 5 a.m., donned his blue work shirt and headed off to work as a journeyman for Excel Energy (formerly Public Service), a private utility supplier of natural gas in Colorado. For three decades of biting winters and sweltering summers, he was the one who would show up at your door to read your meter or if there was a gas leak. It was his employment that put food on our table.
I am grateful that my dad was able to have a steady job all of those years, and realize that many families aren't as lucky as mine, especially now as the economy sits stagnant. But a couple of jobs do not justify the tremendous risks to public health and our environment caused by new technologies in gas development, using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
Considering my roots, it is with deep sincerity and grave seriousness that I say it's time for a ban on fracking in the West. The threats to our drinking water are too real -- the anecdotes of residents across the region being able to light their tap water on fire are too horrifying -- and the risk that anyone, including my parents, could lose the small refuge of peace and quiet they have built in the vicinity of fracking is too great. The industry claims that gas is the answer to our nation's need for new energy sources, but the growing evidence of air and water pollution from fracking can't be ignored.
Fracking uses large quantities of water -- according to data from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, 1 to 5 million gallons of water per well -- and the cocktail of toxic chemicals and the gas itself have shown up in water resources. To date, thousands of cases of water contamination have been reported near drilling sites around the country. In many cases, residents can no longer drink from their taps.
These problems have hit home here in the West. In 2008, a wastewater pit in Colorado leaked 1.6 million gallons of fluid, which migrated into the Colorado River -- the source of drinking water for 30 million Westerners downstream.
In the Northeast of Colorado, Weld County is one of the leading agricultural counties in the United States and produces vast quantities of milk for Coloradoans. Weld County also has 10,000 oil and gas wells. Fracking operations are sucking down billions of gallons of local water that ranchers and farmers depend on to produce food. While companies promise minimal impacts, fracking often devastates farming and ranching operations when fracking fluids contaminate water supplies, sometimes even killing livestock and crops.
The oil and gas industry has touted gas development from newly accessible unconventional sources like shale, tight sands and coalbed as a way to boost our lagging economy, but the industry's claims have grossly overestimated the number of jobs that can be expected. New analysis from Food & Water Watch shows how numerous flaws led one industry-backed study to inflate the job creation potential of drilling and fracking for shale gas by 900 percent. On top of that, the high-paying direct jobs in the gas industry often do not go to local workers. This has been the case in Sublette County where transient workers have taken most of the drilling, fracking and pipeline construction jobs.
Eastern states are moving proactively to protect the public. In New Jersey, legislators passed a bill that would ban fracking for natural gas, and in Maryland, there is a de facto moratorium on drilling pending additional studies. To date, over 100 municipalities across the U.S. have passed measures against fracking.
But in parts of the West, residents lack the local control to say no to fracking in their counties and towns. This is more than a not-in-my-backyard issue, it's about protecting our families and our futures. Right now, everything that my parents built over 40 years -- thanks in part to my dad's earnings from the natural gas industry -- could be wiped away tomorrow if a drilling company shows up near their home. Just as they have in Eastern U.S. municipalities, property owners and citizens in the West deserve a say in whether or not companies can drill and frack for shale gas under their homes.