Thanks to efforts by environmentalists and opponents of the natural gas industry, the process of fracking has come under the limelight recently – and the federal government is considering new, tougher regulations for the hydraulic fracturing industry. Although at one point some environmental groups saw natural gas as a less environmentally damaging alternative to coal, they are now rethinking their stance – and the Sierra Club has revealed they turned down a $30 million gift from natural gas company Chesapeake Energy because of their concerns about the process. That’s a huge hunk of cash for a non-profit environmental group to turn down on principle, and thanks to their honesty they’re now able to fight the good fight against this energy source, which we now know has a dirtier life-cycle than coal.

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“Groups like the Sierra Club have been consumed until relatively recently with an ‘anything but coal’ agenda,” Anthony Ingraffea, a Cornell University engineering professor and fracking opponent quoted in a This American Life episode about the dangers of fracking. In an interview yesterday, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said “When shale gas came around, the groups found themselves wittingly or unwittingly painting themselves into a corner”. When he considered new information about how fracking for natural gas can lead to unsafe drinking water and has more emissions than originally thought, Brune took a stand and announced that he believed his organization should no longer support the fuel source.

“Five years ago most environmental groups thought of gas as a clean but flawed alternative” Brune told attendees at a Bloomberg Government breakfast yesterday. He noted that the more they found out about it, “the more we realized that there were more problems with gas than we thought.” During that early period, Chesapeake, its subsidiaries, and other natural gas companies supported organizations like the Sierra Club and the American Lung Association in their fight against the coal industry. Now that the Sierra Club has taken a step back, others are more likely to do the same.

Yesterday Brune expressed his concern about lax legislation in the fracking industry, stating: “if loopholes aren’t closed, we shouldn’t feel confident that fracking is being done in a safe manner.” Meanwhile, the state of Ohio just announced new rules for the natural gas industry that will help avert small earthquakes being caused by their drilling practices.

Via Bloomberg

Photos by Progress Ohio, Gerry Dincher, Jeremy Buckingham and on Flickr