A champion of action on climate change

Passions over fracking are on the rise in America. A boom in US production of oil and gas from shale rock formations – enabled by horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing that cracks open the dense rocks – has upturned energy markets. It has been cheered by both Democrats and Republicans for making the US the world’s largest natural gas producer, reducing its dependence on Middle Eastern energy and creating jobs. President Barack Obama, a champion of action on climate change, praises fracked natural gas for being “clean”, because it produces limited greenhouse gases when burnt for electricity.

But the rush to extract more shale energy is bringing industrialisation to picturesque rural towns and densely built city suburbs, where horrified residents say fracking is anything but clean. In places such as Windsor, the industry’s growth is causing political fractures as well as cracks in the rocks. That signals trouble for Democrats and Republicans in the state, as fracking joins the long list of issues stoking disillusionment with government among voters. Next Tuesday’s midterm elections will offer more evidence of the problem.

In the early years of the shale boom, production was largely restricted to remote areas that were out of sight and out of mind. But the hunger for new sources has made oil companies the unwelcome new neighbours of homes, schools and hospitals. The front line runs through Colorado and its experience is a warning to other shale frontiers, from Pennsylvania to California, trying to balance energy development and environmental concerns.

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