Coal has become the quintessential dirty fossil fuel. It’s one of the most harmful to the planet when burned, and the industry is notorious for its treatment towards workers and communities. However, the prospect of a future without coal seems bright; former coal companies are investing in renewable energy, and former giants that won’t make the transition are facing bankruptcy. Rick Perry, who once pledged to revive the coal sector, is resigning after a failed reign as Energy Secretary. More and more coal-firing plants are being phased out of operation. These developments are certainly something to be positive about in a wake of demoralizing environmental news.
It might appear that a combination of market forces and greater environmental awareness are beginning the long-awaited end of coal. The once-ubiquitous fuel is finally being robbed of its market share by cleaner energy. But is it for the better?
The decline of any fossil fuel is certainly something to celebrate, but coal’s slow death might not help us meet our climate goals any quicker. Fracking, the process of drilling for gas deep within the earth, is already well known as a destructive practice for both the environment and the communities who live near the drilling. Despite these risks, the fracking industry is soaring, with the United States increasing its drilling more than any other country. And according to a report, those increases put us on track to release an additional 1,000 coal plants’ worth of greenhouse gases by 2050.
It’s not just the increase in fracking that’s putting us on track for catastrophe. Continuing drilling in the Permian Basin at its current level would take up 10 percent of the emissions in the 2.7 degrees Celsius carbon budget, which is, according to U.N. scientists, the benchmark for averting climate collapse.
It seems that every time the environmental movement wins, fossil fuel companies bounce back with another way to reverse the progress we’ve made. But fracking doesn’t just harm the atmosphere — like coal, it has an ability to harm entire communities that live near its wells. A 2016 EPA report found that fracking contaminates water sources through leaking fracking fluid, poorly constructed wells, and neglectful disposal of wastewater. Areas affected by fracking can also experience an influx in earthquakes.
The first step in fighting fracking is calling for an immediate outright ban. Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Kamala Harris have supported an immediate ban on new fracking ventures. Others, like Sen. Amy Klobuchar, have been quick to assert that natural gas is a great ‘transition fuel,’ despite being a source of copious amounts of methane.
Although fracking is cleaner than other fossil fuels, it’s still a fossil fuel, keeping us dependent on dirty sources of energy instead of expanding into renewables. Methane, which leaks from fracked gas, is a potent greenhouse gas hundreds of times more destructive than carbon dioxide. In an era when we only have 12 years to get our climate act together, we can’t take any chances on more carbon. It’s time to support a fracking ban, and start building solar panels, not oil wells.