Skip to main content

Don't let America get 'fracked'

By Phil Radford and Mark Ruffalo, Special to CNN
updated 3:48 PM EDT, Thu April 25, 2013
Workers chat at Consol Energy horizontal gas drilling rig, fracking the Marcellus shale near Waynesburg, Pennsylvania.
Workers chat at Consol Energy horizontal gas drilling rig, fracking the Marcellus shale near Waynesburg, Pennsylvania.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Writers: Natural gas fracking releases methane, a big contributor to global warming
  • Industry calls natural gas a "bridge fuel," they say, but it just puts off developing clean energy
  • Writers: Natural gas burns less carbon, but emits methane and pollutes water sources
  • It's more of the same from fossil fuel industry, they say, whose answer to opponents is ridicule

Editor's note: Phil Radford is the executive director of Greenpeace. Mark Ruffalo is an actor and anti-fracking activist.

(CNN) -- Even the heads of fossil fuel companies read the polls. They know the majority of Americans see global warming as an imminent threat and a clear sign that the way we use energy must change. But instead of offering the solar and wind choices America wants, fossil fuel companies like Shell, Exxon and Duke are offering what might be their most disastrous bait and switch yet: natural gas.

The bait? Burning natural gas is "clean" because it produces less carbon pollution than burning oil and coal. The switch? The catastrophic pollution caused when companies like Exxon fracture the earth -- commonly called fracking -- to get natural gas out of the ground.

These corporations know America is ready for change. They see motivated, forward-thinking companies like Apple, Google and Facebook committing to a clean energy future that threatens to leave dirty energy out in the cold, so they've done what they do best: come up with a slogan instead of a solution.

The industry, its investors and its apologists are insisting that the only way we can go from dirty to clean, oil and coal to solar and wind, is through its "bridge fuel," natural gas.

People protest fracking outside the California Environmental Protection Agency in Sacramento last year.\n
People protest fracking outside the California Environmental Protection Agency in Sacramento last year.

The Bridge Fuel Club holds fast to the idea that the U.S. isn't ready to transition to renewable energy. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the Bridge Fuel Club insists that the only way to get our carbon footprint to a manageable size in the long term is to go all-in on its next, best fossil fuel, one that happens to light faucets on fire and leak methane into the atmosphere at astonishing rates. It's not a real crisis, they say, it's simply time for rebranding, from drilling to hydraulic fracturing.

In fracking, long horizontal wells are drilled in shale rocks sometimes a mile deep. Huge amounts of water, sand and chemicals are pumped into the wells at high pressure, which breaks open the shale so the trapped gas escapes to the surface.

Phil Radford
Phil Radford
Mark Ruffalo
Mark Ruffalo

If we listen to the Bridge Fuel Club, we'll go from "spill, baby, spill" to "fracked" in no time -- and put our long-term chances to solve the climate crisis in serious jeopardy.

Fracking protest catches agency's eye

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Swapping coal pollution for natural gas pollution is not a global warming solution. But companies like Exxon, Shell, and Duke want to use the urgency around climate emergencies like Hurricane Sandy and widespread drought to get us hooked on natural gas. Just like they've done for generations with their other fossil fuels, they want to privatize the profits while making us pay the costs of their work.

Photo essay: Taking from the land -- fracking on reservations

Unfortunately for the industry, the long-term science has started rolling in, and it shows natural gas to be big trouble. Although burning natural gas has less impact on the climate than other fossil fuels, once you take into account the damage done from extraction, it's clear natural gas is a lose-lose. In fact, methane pollution from natural gas has the potential to be an even more severe driver of global warming than carbon pollution from oil and coal. That means it's a bridge fuel to nowhere.

The Environmental Protection Agency says natural gas is 21 times worse than carbon dioxide, but that alarming rate may in itself be a gross underestimate. Studies continue to show methane's long-term climate impact may be far worse than initially predicted because of the intensity of methane's interaction with aerosol in the atmosphere.

In addition, a recent study led by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association showed that natural gas production sites in places like Utah and Colorado are leaking methane at "eye-popping" rates, far greater than what the industry reports.

CNN Explains: Fracking

But where the fossil fuel industry wants us to delay any work on clean energy while there is some fabricated doubt about climate change, it wants to go full frack ahead on natural gas -- despite clear evidence against natural gas from the scientific community. Of course, for the industry, natural gas isn't as much of an energy transition as a slight modification to its current business models, one that keeps all the subsidies and lobbyists right where they are.

If we listen to the Bridge Fuel Club, we'll go from 'spill, baby, spill' to 'fracked' in no time
Phil Radford and Mark Ruffalo

For them, it seems like a slam dunk -- except committed communities across the U.S. aren't buying it.

Watch: 'Avengers' star Ruffalo is the 'green monster fighting for the environment'

The industry is trying to bully the locals into giving up their land, pitting itself against New Yorkers, Ohioans, Illinoisians and Pennsylvanians. The movement's momentum clearly has the industry on its back foot, so they're trying new tactics like character assassination and slander.

By claiming that people across the social spectrum don't like fracking simply because it's happening in their backyards, the industry and its apologists are showing contempt for democracy in its rawest form.

In New York state, the resistance to fracking is grounded in communities most threatened by it. Mark's family home is smack dab in the middle of what the fossil fuel industry wants to make the Gaslands of New York state. It's a treasure of watersheds, developing organic food sources, and unindustrialized open spaces.

A vibrant and diversified community of farmers, craftspeople, artists, entrepreneurs, restaurant owners, tourism operators, and homeowners live there, all of whom would be devastated by the natural gas industry. This engaged community is demanding that there be no natural gas extraction on their lands until the long-term risks and dangers are fully understood.

These New Yorkers have seen other communities in neighboring states like Pennsylvania run over by an industry that promised them heaps of cash, but instead the communities report groundwater contamination, contaminated flow-back waste, road-ripping truck traffic and clouds of cancer-causing chemicals. As well as that, a recent report found that many of Pennsylvania's energy policymakers and regulators have come from the oil and gas industry.

Anti-fracking communities know that the barriers to clean energy are political, not practical. They want to see a better way. That's why they are joined by many national environmental groups and activists from coast to coast, and also why the Bridge Fuel Club is so scared of them.

The more people who point out that natural gas is a bridge fuel to nowhere, the closer we get to a clean energy future.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Phil Radford and Mark Ruffalo.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Steve Israel is right: Some Republicans encourage anti-Latino prejudice. But that kind of bias is not limited to the GOP.
updated 7:23 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Peggy Drexler counts the ways Phyllis Schlafly's argument that lower pay for women helps them nab a husband is ridiculous.
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
updated 5:29 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say the Kansas Jewish Center killings are part of a string of lethal violence in the U.S. that outstrips al Qaeda-influenced attacks. Why don't we pay more attention?
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Danny Cevallos says families of the passengers on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 need legal counsel
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Frum says Russia is on a rampage of mischief while Western leaders and Western alliances charged with keeping the peace hem and haw
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Most adults make the mistakes of hitting the snooze button and of checking emails first thing in the morning, writes Mel Robbins
updated 1:54 PM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Wheeler says as middle-class careers continue to disappear, we need a monthly cash payment to everyone
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Democrats need to show more political spine when it comes to the issue of taxes.
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Donna Brazile recalls the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act as four presidents honored the heroes of the movement and Lyndon Johnson, who signed the law
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Elmer Smith remembers Chuck Stone, the legendary journalist from Philadelphia who was known as a thorn in the side of police and an advocate for the little guy
updated 2:56 PM EDT, Sun April 13, 2014
Al Franken says Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, wants to acquire Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest cable provider. Should we be concerned?
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Philip Cook and Kristin Goss says the Pennsylvania stabbing attack, which caused grave injury -- but not death, carries a lesson on guns for policymakers
updated 3:06 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Wikipedia lists 105 football movies, but all too many of them are forgettable, writes Mike Downey
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
John Sutter and hundreds of iReporters set out to run marathons after the bombings -- and learned a lot about the culture of running
updated 12:49 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Timothy Stanley says it was cowardly to withdraw the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The university should have done its homework on her narrow views and not made the offer
updated 10:16 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Al Awlaki
Almost three years after his death in a 2011 CIA drone strike in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki continues to inspire violent jihadist extremists in the U.S, writes Peter Bergen
updated 9:21 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
David Bianculli says Colbert is a smart, funny interviewer, but ditching his blowhard persona to take over the mainstream late-night role may cost him fans
updated 1:31 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Rep. Paul Ryan says the Republican budget places its trust in the people, not in Washington
updated 5:28 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Aaron David Miller says Obama isn't to blame for Kerry's lack of progress in resolving Mideast talks
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Weinberger says beyond focusing on the horrors of the attack a year ago, it's worth remembering the lessons it taught about strength, the dangers of idle speculation and Boston's solidarity
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Katherine Newman says the motive for the school stabbing attack in Pennsylvania is not yet known, but research on such rampages turns up similarities in suspects and circumstances
updated 2:39 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Wendy Townsend says the Rattlesnake Roundup -- where thousands of pounds of snakes are killed and tormented -- is barbaric
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT