Is fracking our countryside a good way to make American foreign policy?


There are many, many arguments to be made against the process of hydraulic fracturing. Fracking is usurping billions of gallons of water in a time of drought, its main disposal method for wastewater has been linked to earthquakes, its rigs spew toxic air pollution as well as methane, which contributes greatly to global warming. That’s in addition to polluting local wells and the occasional explosions or large-scale spills, as well as the spoiling of some of America’s most picturesque rural areas.

So what are the positives? Not as many, in my book, but proponents for fracking have tried to make a case that increasing energy production here in the homefront — and domestic oil and gas production is indeed at a recent high — makes a safer United States that is less prone to messy entanglements overseas. That does make some sense — there’s not much need to go invading the Persian Gulf if we’re not dependent on their oil, right?

That’s why I find it dismaying to hear that America’s success in finding new oil and gas through fracking (and fouling up the environment in the process) actually may not be used to lower energy bills for U.S. citizens, but rather it could become a tool of American empire abroad:

Environmentalists fighting the Keystone XL pipeline are rallying to block a Maryland natural gas export terminal as momentum builds to use the U.S. fuel as a weapon against Russia’s intervention in Ukraine.

The energy required to liquefy and ship gas at Dominion Resources Inc.’s proposed Cove Point terminal in Maryland will raise the fuel’s greenhouse-gas emissions to the level of coal, says Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. Such terminals threaten the climate like pipelines tied to developing oil in Alberta, including Keystone, he said.

“This issue is a lot like the fight over tar sands,” Tidwell said in an interview. “It’s gone from non-existent to the biggest environmental fight in Maryland, and is on its way to being the biggest environmental fight in the Mid-Atlantic.”

In a remarkable development, Republicans in Congress — eager to retaliate against Russia for its military action and disputed annexation of Crimea — are introducing legislation that would speed approval of energy export facilities like the proposed  Maryland site. There is little or no regard to the ecological impact — and some environmentalists are justifiably crying foul.

Environmental groups argue increasing exports of U.S. natural gas would provide no immediate help to Ukraine, and that it would exacerbate climate change.

“The temporary and understandable desire to help with the Ukraine situation doesn’t at all change the reality — economic and environmental — in terms of the negative impact on the United States of exporting LNG,” said Tidwell.

Tidwell, along with energy experts, said that the proposed export terminals would not be operational for years. Furthermore, the gas is likely to go to Asia, where prices are highest, and not Eastern Europe.

Let me add my voice to those who are saying this is a terrible idea. To tell a farmer in Pennsylvania or South Texas that he must breathe tainted air, that the water in his well might be polluted and that his landscape will be permanently scarred, to keep our own natural gas prices low — that’s a trade-off that’s simply not worth it. But to tell that same farmer that you’re trashing his land to sell gas to folks in Asia or Eastern Europe just to make a few extra billions for Big Oil and Gas, well that is unconscionable.

To read more about the opposition to the Dominion gas-export facility in Maryland, check out:

To find out more about the debate on exporting American gas overseas in response to the conflict in Ukraine:

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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