ICYMI: Fracking Is a Feminist Issue


The spring edition of Ms. Magazine didn’t just feature a cover of Beyoncé that sparked viral controversy-it also contained an informative piece on the uncertainties of hydraulic fracturing. For those of us who majored in the humanities, Rebecca Clarren does an amazing job explaining the process and exploring why many people frame the effects of fracking in feminist terms.

What is “fracking?”

Hydraulic fracturing is a technology used to gain access to previously inaccessible deposits of natural gas. The natural gas is trapped in tight sands and shale formations (thus the “fracturing” portion of the term).  Clarren describes how, “After a well is drilled, tens of thousands of gallons of chemical additives, water and sand are injected under great pressure to crack rock and stimulate gas flow.” The injection of water is one issue at the forefront for environmentalists, because “between 30 and 70 percent of fracturing fluid remains underground indefinitely” (according to the EPA), and scientists still aren’t certain if leaving residual fracking liquid underground poses a threat.

One-third of water from mining doesn’t stay underground; this is referred to as “produced water,” and it flows to the surface where scientists allow it to passively evaporated or evaporated via aeration. Produced water contains residual chemicals from the initial process, as well as heavy metals and radioactive material picked up in the pursuit of natural gas.

How common is fracking?

According to Clarren’s research, and numbers by the Energy Information Administration, there are an estimated half a million (or more) natural-gas wells in 31 states. And another estimated 630,000 oil and gas wells might emerge in the next decade.

What do we know?

At the heart of the issue is the fact that the verdict is still out on fracking, and some safeguards have been lifted or ignored in an effort to expedite development. For instance, congress exempted fracking from the Safe Drinking Water and portions of the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts.

The EPA is currently studying the effects of water that remains underground during mining, but their study won’t be done for at least a year. Trevor Penning, the director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Excellence in Environmental Toxicology is working with colleagues at Columbia to conduct the first epidemiological study to “determine whether there is an association between water quality and the health of people who live near fracking operations,” but those results won’t be ready for 18 months. Noticing a trend here?

How is it a feminist issue?

Hydraulic fracturing isn’t happening in areas without people, and where there are people, there is feminism. Some of the process happens “within 150 feet of homes and schools,” and with so little known about the long-term effects, there is great concern for the health of children. But let’s not just talk about the children (though they’re an important population), because if fracking does have detrimental long-term effects– like cancer–who is going to pay for the care of the sick? The cost of medical care in our country is astounding, and as always, the groups most likely to experience consequences would be working-class families who can’t afford the cost of treatment.

Why is fracking a feminist issue for you?


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