Unearthing, processing, and moving underground oil, gas, and coal deposits take an enormous toll on our landscapes and ecosystems. The fossil fuel industry leases vast stretches of land for infrastructure such as wells, pipelines, access roads, as well as facilities for processing, waste storage, and waste disposal. In the case of strip mining, entire swaths of terrain—including forests and whole mountaintops—are scraped and blasted away to expose underground coal or oil. Even after operations cease, the nutrient-leached land will never return to what it once was.
Coal, oil, and gas development pose myriad threats to our waterways and groundwater. Coal mining operations wash acid runoff into streams, rivers, and lakes and dump vast quantities of unwanted rock and soil into streams. Oil spills and leaks during extraction or transport can pollute drinking water sources and jeopardize entire freshwater or ocean ecosystems. Fracking and its toxic fluids have also been found to contaminate drinking water, a fact that the Environmental Protection Agency was slow to recognize.
Meanwhile, all drilling, fracking, and mining operations generate enormous volumes of wastewater, which can be laden with heavy metals, radioactive materials, and other pollutants. Industries store this waste in open-air pits or underground wells that can leak or overflow into waterways and contaminate aquifers with pollutants linked to cancer, birth defects, neurological damage, and much more.
Global warming pollution
When we burn oil, coal, and gas, we don’t just meet our energy needs—we drive the current global warming crisis as well. Fossil fuels produce large quantities of carbon dioxide when burned. Carbon emissions trap heat in the atmosphere and lead to climate change. In the United States, the burning of fossil fuels, particularly for the power and transportation sectors, accounts for about three-quarters of our carbon emissions.
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