(MintPress) – Nationwide Insurance, one of the largest Insurance companies in the United States, has decided not to cover damage related to hydraulic fracking. The decision is a frank assessment of risk associated with the controversial practice currently under consideration in a number of municipalities. Insurance companies, using Actuarial statistics can produce advanced risk assessments to determine whether an individual is insurable. The decision by Nationwide is likely to be seen as a boon to the oil and gas industry, struggling to convince skeptical citizens that hydraulic fracturing is a safe, harmless way to extract natural gas from the rock beneath the earth’s surface.
Nationwide Insurance decision
The Nationwide Insurance decision was made public earlier this week when an internal company memo was leaked to the public. The memo has been widely disseminated through online environmentalist forums and is seen by anti-fracking activists as legitimizing their belief that the practice is harmful to human health and the environment.
The memo reads, “After months of research and discussion, we have determined that the exposures presented by hydraulic fracturing are too great to ignore. Risks involved with hydraulic fracturing are now prohibited for General Liability, Commercial Auto, Motor Truck Cargo, Auto Physical Damage and Public Auto (insurance) coverage.”
The risks, “too great to ignore,” according to the company, mean that landowners seeking to lease land to drilling companies will not be able to obtain insurance through Nationwide.
The fracking battle
Hydraulic fracturing is a process of natural gas extraction involving the injection of water and chemicals deep into the ground. The high pressure injection breaks apart imbedded rock formations, releasing natural gas for extraction and use.
The problems, however, are widely recorded by environmental studies showing that “fracking fluid” contains numerous known carcinogens. The fluid containing benzene and other harmful chemicals can contaminate the water table, according to a May 2012 study by the scientific journal Ground Water.
Although the process of hydraulic fracturing has been used in the Western U.S. for decades, it has only received increased public opposition in the past few years, especially with the advent of horizontal drilling technology. The increased public attention has been driven by the proposed development of the Marcellus shale reserve, a deposit of underground rock covering parts of New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Strong public opposition to fracking has forced Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) to back away from his previous support of fracking projects, instead proposing a development limited to a few areas in the Southern Tier of New York state.
Some communities have opted to ban the use of fracking altogether. Although not part of the Marcellus shale area, the state of Vermont banned fracking earlier this year, a victory for environmentalists and those who oppose the practice.
Additionally, a number of European countries, including Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and France, have all placed a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing. Germany has taken the strongest stance of any European country, choosing to permanently ban the practice.
In New York state, one of the contested fracking areas, the latest public opinion polls show 48 percent of New Yorkers oppose fracking. Forty-four percent support the practice, while the remaining 8 percent are unsure.
In the same telephone poll conducted June 15-17 by Public Policy Polling, 72 percent of respondents support more environmental testing on fracking before the state makes a decision on whether to allow drilling or not.
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