Hydraulic fracturing -- better known as fracking -- can release natural gas for extraction, but it can also produce toxic wastewater, contaminate the air, and leak so much methane into drinking water that some faucets near fracking sites can be lit on fire.
But if you watched Fox News, you'd only know the first fact; you wouldn't hear about the harmful environmental and health side effects.
Today, Fox & Friends hosted the president of a pro-fracking group to call on New York's Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) to allow fracking to take place in the state. New York currently has a moratorium on fracking while state regulators develop rules for the industry.
Co-host Steve Doocy began his interview with Karen Moreau, president of the Foundation for Land and Liberty, by asking, "What do you do when the key to revitalizing your town's economy is banned by the government?" After a clip of a recent pro-fracking film produced by the organization was aired, Doocy told Moreau, "Your film is great." Doocy also dismissed environmental concerns about fracking:
MOREAU: [Farmers] been waiting now for almost four years for New York State's regulatory agencies to approve horizontal hydrafracking.
DOOCY: See, now, you just said fracking.
DOOCY: And because that term has been so maligned by some members of the media, they go, oh, that's that thing where you turn on your faucet and the flames shoot out, which you say is not true. But nonetheless, fracking [is] OK and legal in Pennsylvania, not in New York, where so many family farms are about to go under.
But, in fact, it is true that "flames shoot out" of faucets located near fracking sites -- or at least, they can; the 2010 documentary Gasland showed a man igniting his tap water, which was saturated with methane. While a Colorado oil and gas commission later tried to claim that the methane levels were "biogenic" and "had nothing to do with the fracking" nearby, a May 2011 Duke University study linked fracking with a pattern of "drinking water contamination so severe that some faucets can be lit on fire." In a write-up of the study, ProPublica noted:
For the first time, a scientific study has linked natural gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing with a pattern of drinking water contamination so severe that some faucets can be lit on fire.
The research was conducted by four scientists at Duke University. They found that levels of flammable methane gas in drinking water wells increased to dangerous levels when those water supplies were close to natural gas wells. They also found that the type of gas detected at high levels in the water was the same type of gas that energy companies were extracting from thousands of feet underground, strongly implying that the gas may be seeping underground through natural or manmade faults and fractures, or coming from cracks in the well structure itself.
Although the researchers "did not find evidence that the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing had contaminated any of the wells they tested," they did find "a clear correlation between drilling activity and the seepage of gas contaminants underground, a danger in itself."
Other dangers of fracking have been reported. In February 2011, The New York Times reviewed EPA documents and concluded that fracking produces wastewater full of toxic chemicals, and even radioactivity, that sewage plants fail to fully treat. It also found fracking damages air quality by releasing toxic gases. In June 2010, Vanity Fair published a lengthy profile of the town of Dimock, PA -- an important center of drilling operations. The article contended that Dimock "is now known as the place where, over the past two years, people's water started turning brown and making them sick, one woman's water well spontaneously combusted, and horses and pets mysteriously began to lose their hair." It went on to describe the story of one family that had leased its property for fracking:
Drilling operations near [Dimock couple Craig and Julie Sautner's] property commenced in August 2008.
Within a month, their water had turned brown. It was so corrosive that it scarred dishes in their dishwasher and stained their laundry. They complained to Cabot [Oil & Gas], which eventually installed a water-filtration system in the basement of their home. It seemed to solve the problem, but when the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection came to do further tests, it found that the Sautners' water still contained high levels of methane. More ad hoc pumps and filtration systems were installed.
"It was so bad sometimes that my daughter would be in the shower in the morning, and she'd have to get out of the shower and lay on the floor" because of the dizzying effect the chemicals in the water had on her, recalls Craig Sautner, who has worked as a cable splicer for Frontier Communications his whole life. She didn't speak up about it for a while, because she wondered whether she was imagining the problem. But she wasn't the only one in the family suffering. "My son had sores up and down his legs from the water," Craig says. Craig and Julie also experienced frequent headaches and dizziness.
The Sautners now rely on water delivered to them every week by Cabot. The value of their land has been decimated. Their children no longer take showers at home. They desperately want to move but cannot afford to buy a new house on top of their current mortgage.
Even natural gas company officials have admitted natural gas exploration can be dangerous: in April 2011, the president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition said the group now believes the industry is "partly responsible for rising levels of contaminants found in area drinking water."
Yet Doocy didn't find time to mention any of this in his interview with Moreau. Little surprise -- Fox News has shilled for fracking before and is a consistent opponent to life-saving air quality standards.