The onset and evolution of hydrofracking processes have triggered rapid growth in natural-gas and light crude oil extraction from deposits deep underground.  The processes involve horizontally drilling into shale rock, inserting steel and concrete reinforced wells, and injecting water, sand and various chemicals deep underground to fracture the shale rock formations that hold deposits.

In the next few decades, energy companies are planning on drilling tens of thousands of hydraulic-fracturing wells across the United States, with a heavy focus on large shale formations in New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and in the West.

The extraction of vast amounts of natural gas from previously inaccessible underground deposits has the potential to yield significant environmental, economic and national-security benefits.  Increased use of natural gas can reduce our dependence on coal, a dirtier fuel, while increased domestic oil and natural gas liquid production from shale can reduce our dependence on imported oil, which is a longstanding national-security objective.  Furthermore, increasing the energy supply through natural-gas drilling could potentially reduce energy costs and is creating jobs – which could contribute, at least in a small way, to the alleviation of poverty.

However, we also have serious concerns about known and as yet unknown impacts. Here, we are guided by the response of Rabbi Isaac ben Sheshet, one of the greatest Talmudic authorities, who wrote, “One is forbidden from gaining a livelihood at the expense of another’s health.” (R, Responsum 196, 14th Century).

Environmental and quality-of-life issues associated with the hydrofracking industry include the potential for surface and ground water contamination, odors and air emissions, human and environmental health effects, visual blight, noise pollution, earthquakes, depletion of water sources, and road and other infrastructure deterioration.  Chronic human, animal, and environmental health issues have not been satisfactorily assessed, while the pace and spread of drilling continues to accelerate.

In addition to the impacts of drilling, there are additional impacts from the ongoing construction of an extensive network of pipelines to transport gas to processing facilities.

Although waste-water disposal practices are regulated at the federal level by the Clean Water Act, the failure of gas companies to properly control or dispose of residual waste-water from hydrofracking operations has been a frequent problem.  Moreover, oil and gas drilling have been granted an exemption from regulation under the Safe Water Drinking Act.

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs believes that:


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