Fracking: Dirty Fossil-Fuel Energy that Undermines Human Rights

Fracking is the process of breaking up shale underneath the Earth’s surface to extract natural gas and oil.  It has been hailed as the new direction to take in energy production, and promoted as a safe alternative to traditional fossil fuel sources, especially coal.
Often overlooked in the fracking debate, however, are the systematic breaches of international human rights law that accompany fracking, especially those related to the destruction of the environment necessary for the enjoyment of human rights.  Human rights law recognizes that human rights and environmental protection depend on each other: to enjoy human rights fully, it is necessary to have a safe and healthy environment; and to have a safe and healthy environment, it is critical to protect human rights.

Fracking poses severe threats to the environment: not only does it release dangerous amounts of methane into the atmosphere (a 2011 United Nations Environment Program study states that methane is 105 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in the short term and has quicker climate impacts) but it can also contaminate and deplete water, pollute the air, lead to deforestation, and increase the risk for earthquakes. For communities who live near fracking wells, the impacts on their rights are numerous and far-reaching: damage to crops and livestock threatens their right to food and right to livelihood; water and air pollution endangers their right to health and to safe drinking water. Fracking operations  can also impact their rights to housing, to access information, and to public participation.

In continued efforts to expose and denounce the human rights violations connected to fracking, FI co-sponsored a debate at the COP21 Meeting in Paris. The event provided further evidence of fracking’s adverse impact on the environment and human rights, from experts in the United States, where fracking has been taking place for years, and from other activists from around the world who are facing the imminent threat of fracking in their countries.  Participants also highlighted the role of faith communities in the struggle to ban fracking, pointing specifically to the Pope’s encyclical, ‘Laudato Si,’ and how it can be used to support the movement. The debate at COP21 is part of FI’s strategy to raise awareness about and contribute to banning the practice of fracking. It comes after a series of specific advocacy actions, including formal denouncements at the Human Rights Council, reports for UN country reviews (namely Canada’s review by the Human Rights Committee), and advocacy in the Sustainable Development Goals process. 

For more information about fracking and human rights, please see the “Guide to Rights- Based Advocacy: International Human Rights Law and Fracking”, a publication by the Sisters of Mercy, for which FI was a contributor.