Don't frack Greater Yellowstone

Go Frack Yourself, Yellowstone

by Austin Billings · March 08, 2011

Last month, I wrote about the Wilderness Society’s petition to stop Plains Exploration and Production Company (PXP) from installing 130 new gas wells in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. My post focused on the beauty of the Bridger-Teton National Forest and the most gorgeous road trip I’ve ever taken – but PXP’s plans to frack with Yellowstone are just as ugly as Wyoming is beautiful.

Natural gas may be less carbon-intensive than coal or oil, but it’s only a viable option when the relevant drilling operations cause less harm than the equivalent coal mine or oil well. That just doesn’t seem to be the case with hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” the type of drilling PXP wants to do outside the Grand Tetons.

PXP – a company recently fined by the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management – would employ fracking in what Citizens for the Wyoming Range calls “the first [drilling project] to advance deep into wildlife habitat vital to the whole Yellowstone area.” And what exactly is fracking? As the New York Times explains, it's a drilling process that allows energy companies to get at gas previously too-deep by “injecting huge amounts of water, mixed with sand and chemicals, at high pressures to break up rock formations and release the gas.”

Okay... but what’s so bad about fracking? Nothing, as long as you don’t value your health. The process leak as many as 500 toxic chemicals into local ground-water.’s Jess Leber has reported on the tripled asthma rate of Texas schools near fracking wells. And according to the Times, radioactivity in Pennsylvania drilling wastewater – water that empties into three major rivers – can be “thousands of times the maximum allowed by the federal standard for drinking water.”

Furthermore, fracking is one of the worst water hogs around. According to ProPublica, “The EPA… estimates that fracking uses 70 to 140 billion gallons of water annually, or about the same amount used by one or two cities of 2.5 million people.”

It’s not just water. In 2009, thanks to its 27,000 fracking wells, Yellowstone’s Wyoming failed to meet federal air quality standards for the first time.

So what does this mean for Yellowstone? As you can imagine, fracking’s water hogging ways are the last thing the drought-plagued West needs. The 29 miles of new and upgrades roads, along with heavy industrial traffic, would be terrible for such wildlife as moose, bison, black-footed ferrets, and peregrine falcons. And the 130 new wells could spoil views from the Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons – views that, at least for now, preserve an environmental legacy for future generations.

The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is the largest intact ecosystem in the country – don’t let dirty fossil fuels destroy it. Sign the Wilderness Society’s petition to stop fracking in the Bridger-Teton National Forest. There are just three days left until the Forest Service’s period for public comment ends – we can’t let this opportunity for conservation pass.

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Photo credit: The Teton Range's Mount Moran, part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and near PXP's proposed fracking gas wells. Image courtesy Wikipedia.