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 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
updated 2:51 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
updated 6:07 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
updated 11:36 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT