All morning, the news elicited gasps as it circulated around listservs: the safety and applications of fracking fluid will be tested by being used in a high school swimming pool. Just as my mouth was gaping wide, I remembered it’s April 1—but along with relief that this was a joke came the realization that it was possible to believe, just for a minute, that it might not be.
Perhaps that’s because every other day of the year, events related to oil and gas development are very strange but true.
There’s an ever-growing sinkhole that swallows land and equipment. A proposal to store gas near a major drinking water supply using structurally unstable mines. A bill to exempt companies from liability if they use toxic mine drainage for fracking or irrigation. An environmental agency blaming a decorative plastic rock, not drilling, for the presence of acrylonitrile in a water well.
While such ideas are no joke, they increasingly inspire a healthy dose of skepticism. The most recent opinion poll in New York showed that for the first time, more residents are opposed (46%) than in favor (39%) of the state moving forward with high-volume fracking. Nationwide, more and more Americans express support for tough regulation and government oversight of industry. And new research reveals the illusion of plentiful, cheap gas for decades to come.
The impacts of oil and gas development—from health risks to evacuations to water shortages—are deadly serious. As evidence, awareness, and opposition spread, it is likely to be communities, not industry, that will have the last laugh.