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New Report: Dangerous and Close

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Over the summer, my seven-year-old son and I flew to Los Angeles to visit his cousins. When we arrived, he was fidgety from having to sit still on a plane and his youngest cousin was bouncing off the walls in excitement at our arrival, so we walked over to the playground next to his cousin’s elementary school. The playground has some great equipment—hoops to climb through, a rope net, and all sorts of ways to spin—and we hung around for a good while letting the kids burn off some energy.

It wasn’t until a few weeks later, as I was mapping data for Frontier Group’s newest report about the risks of fracking, that I realized that the elementary school and the playground the kids had enjoyed so much is about a mile and a half from numerous fracked wells. That school is just one of 2,900 K-12 schools in nine states that are within two miles of at least one fracked oil or gas well.

That’s a finding in a new report by Frontier Group, Environment America Research & Policy Center, and FracTracker about the number of day care centers, schools, hospitals and nursing homes close to fracked wells. Dangerous and Close: Fracking Puts the Nation’s Most Vulnerable People at Risk documents how often oil and gas wells are fracked close to facilities that serve children and other vulnerable populations. It happens all too often, as you can see from this map of facilities within two miles of a fracked well.

In nine states that have experienced extensive fracking—Arkansas, California, Colorado, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and West Virginia—wells have been fracked within two miles of 3,700 day care centers, 2,900 schools, 596 nursing care facilities, and 202 hospitals. Most of these places probably look like the school my niece attends: well-kept, long-established facilities that are respected for serving vulnerable people in our communities.

The problem with allowing fracking so close to these facilities is that fracking for oil and gas creates air and water pollution, as well as the potential for blowouts and explosions. Vulnerable people are the least able to handle these threats. Children’s developing respiratory, immune and nervous systems are more susceptible to damage from toxic chemicals. In addition, children tend to breathe more rapidly than adults and are also more likely to play outdoors—like my son and his cousin on that playground—increasing their exposure to air pollution from fracking. Older adults and the sick have weaker immune systems and more difficulty breaking down toxins in the body. In addition, people with pre-existing cardiovascular disease are more likely to suffer a heart attack or a stroke after exposure to elevated levels of soot pollution, such as that from diesel trucks or a drilling rig.

As a society, we aspire to protect children, the sick and the elderly. That’s why we have standards for day care facilities, inspections at nursing homes, and accreditation requirements for hospitals. Yet, because of our overwhelming dependence on fossil fuels, we’re willing to put vulnerable populations at risk by fracking for oil and gas close to day care centers, schools, nursing homes and hospitals.

To protect vulnerable people, we need to ban fracking close to the facilities that serve these populations. And to protect all of us, we need to ban fracking altogether, and make a wholesale shift to clean energy through conservation and renewable energy.