Dear EarthTalk: I have heard that fracking is becoming a major environmental issue in the U.S. Which parts of the country are already hosting fracking operations? Are there efforts underway to stop the practice in specific states or across the country? ¬-- Jim Ross, Toronto, ON
Fracking, short for hydraulic fracturing, is a process whereby drillers blast millions of gallons of water, sand and hazardous chemicals at high-pressure into sub-surface rock formations to create fractures that facilitate the flow of recoverable oil or gas. The technique has proven so effective at reaching previously hard-to-access reserves that it has helped spur a boom in natural gas production around the country.
Hydraulic Fracturing, or "fracking," involves blasting
This influx of domestic natural gas means lower home heating costs and thousands of new jobs in the industry. But opponents point to dozens of fracking-related accidents in recent years and worry that the technique is polluting groundwater and air and poisoning communities—all to get at more fossil fuels when we’d all be better off moving more quickly toward developing clean, renewable energy sources.
While fracking goes on all across the country, the Marcellus Shale, a layer of sedimentary bedding under the Allegheny plateau that spans nine northeastern and Mid-Atlantic States, has become America’s primary fracking grounds. Thanks to fracking and other new extraction techniques, the gas industry is now able to access the natural gas in the Shale and beginning in 2006 commenced big extraction operations in parts of western New York State, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and elsewhere. Geologists estimate there may be as much as 489 trillion cubic feet of natural gas—400 times what New York State uses in a year—throughout the Shale. The race is now on to extract as much as possible as quickly as possible.
But it’s this very gold rush mentality that has led to many so-called “fraccidents” in and around the Shale. The group Earthjustice tracks and publicizes such incidents online via its “Fracking Gone Wrong” campaign. They list dozens of examples of tainted drinking water, polluted air and industrial disasters caused or exacerbated by fracking at or near extraction sites since operations began six years ago.
“Wherever Marcellus development has occurred in Pennsylvania, reports of poisoned water, sick kids and dead animals have followed,” reports Marcellus Protest, an alliance of western Pennsylvania organizations seeking to halt fracking operations. The group coordinates anti-fracking efforts, organizes demonstrations and produces educational materials, including the website MarcellusShale.org, a clearinghouse on fracking and related activism. Its advocacy work helped convince the Pittsburgh city council to ban fracking there back in 2010 and is now working to extend the ban to other areas in the region and beyond.
The controversy has not escaped Hollywood. The 2010 HBO film, Gasland, followed Josh Fox around the U.S. on a quest to find out what impact fracking was having on communities after he was asked to lease his own land for hydraulic fracturing. And a forthcoming Gus Van Sant film, Promised Land, starring Matt Damon focuses on a small farming town that sells its agricultural land to frackers and pays a heavy price in losing a lifestyle and a livelihood while jeopardizing public health. Activists hope these films will go a long way to convince Americans and their elected officials to say no to more fracking.
Dear EarthTalk: How eco-friendly are professional sports leagues and their teams? Which stand out especially for their green efforts? -- Al Simpson, Medina, OH
The Natural Resources Defense Council calls the greening
Professional sports, like many other pursuits, are getting greener every day. While pro leagues and teams have traditionally been the last to go green, it has all changed in recent years. Maybe it’s the fact that wasting less saves money. Or that going green generates good public relations. Or that it’s just the right thing to do. Whether it’s any or all-of-the-above, professional sports certainly have never been greener.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a leading environmental non-profit, has worked with several sports teams and leagues to green their operations, and has bundled a collection of case studies into a recently released report, “Game Changer: How the Sports Industry is Saving the Environment.” One example is how baseball’s San Francisco Giants have so far saved 171,000 kilowatt hours of energy at its stadium, AT+T Park, through a series of lighting retrofits. Another is the building of a 3-megawatt photovoltaic solar array at NASCAR’s Pocono Raceway, which offsets 3,100 metric tons of CO2 each year and provides enough power to operate the raceway and 1,000 nearby homes. Still another is basketball’s Minnesota Timberwolves’ construction of a 2.5 acre green roof that prevents annually a million gallons of storm water from spilling into the Mississippi River from atop their Minneapolis arena.
NRDC hopes its report can help educate sports professionals, their suppliers and the millions of fans that patronize the teams and their venues about the business case for greening, from achieving cost savings and enhancing brands to developing new sponsorship opportunities and strengthening community ties.
To further these goals, NRDC, along with Paul Allen’s Vulcan Inc., launched the Green Sports Alliance in 2010, bringing together venue operators, team executives and scientists to exchange information and develop solutions to their environmental challenges. The findings gathered are made available to Alliance members so that they can better understand how sporting events can be performed in an environmentally sensitive manner. Alliance members represent more than 100 teams and venues from 13 different leagues.
For teams that want to go green but don’t know where to start, NRDC created a Greening Advisor program, featuring sustainability tips and green inspiration. Teams from each of North America’s major sports leagues can find treasure troves of information at the intersection of saving money and the planet.
NRDC calls the greening of pro sports “a cultural shift of historic proportions” and delights in the fact that “North America’s professional leagues, teams and venues have collectively saved millions of dollars by shifting to more efficient, healthy and ecologically intelligent operations.”
“At the same time, the sports greening movement has brought important environmental messages to millions of fans worldwide,” says NRDC. “Sport is a great unifier, transcending political, cultural, religious and socioeconomic barriers. It also wields a uniquely powerful influence [and] in so doing, promotes a non-political public commitment to environmental protection.”
CONTACTS: “Game Changer” Report, www.nrdc.org/greenbusiness/guides/sports/game-changer.asp; Green Sports Alliance, www.greensportsalliance.org; NRDC Greening Advisor, www.greensports.org.