Fracking is currently propping up our economy. It’s also environmentally devastating to nigh-apocalyptic levels. Here’s why we need to stop fracking immediately.
As the national debate over hydraulic fracturing rages on, new scientific evidence surrounding the environmental impact is constantly emerging. Fracking, the highly controversial method of extracting fuel sources by fracturing rock with pressurized liquids, has been linked to numerous environmental and health concerns. Many academic and governmental studies point to a high potential for harm from the practice. A powerful and deeply intertwined energy lobby maintains enough influence over legislation to keep regulation and environmental impact testing to a minimum. Many scientists fear that some of the damage that has already been done may take years to reverse, and many of the long term health effects are yet to emerge.
1. Radioactive Water
Radioactive isotopes used in fracking have been discovered in water supplies across the Marcellus Shale region. Many scientists and healthcare professionals are vocal about the dangers of radioactivity, but many of the isotopes remain unregulated. Much of the wastewater from fracking in this region is processed by public sewage treatment plants. Many of these plants do not have the capabilities to remove radioactive substances, and they make their way into the public water supply. (Graphene has been shown to purify fracking water, here.)
In early October, scientists from Duke University published a report indicating dangerously high levels of radiation in a stream in western Pennsylvania. The researches took samples of sediments in the Blacklick Creek, which feeds into the water system that also supplies drinking water to Pittsburgh. The Blacklick Creek receives fracking wastewater runoff from a nearby treatment facility. Radioactive radium levels in the section of creek receiving the runoff were 200 times higher than in sediment upstream. Long term exposure to irradiated water has the potential to lead to many health risks, and greatly increases the potential for cancer.
2. Poisoning of Livestock, Pets and Wildlife
A 2012 report published by Dr. Robert Oswald, professor of molecular medicine at Cornell University, found dozens of cases of animal sickness and death linked to exposure to drilling operations. Oswald, along with veterinarian Dr. Michelle Bamberger, investigated cases of animal poisoning across Colorado, Louisiana, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Texas. Many of these cases occurred when wastewater from fracking sites drains into fields, pastures and residential areas.
One of the most startling cases occurred in Louisiana. 17 cows died within an hour of direct exposure to hydraulic fracturing fluid. Autopsies pointed to respiratory and circulatory collapse as the cause of death. Another farmer reported that out of 60 cows that drank from a creek receiving wastewater, 21 died and 16 became infertile. His 36 other cows, which grazed in a field without access to the contaminated creek, did not develop any health or reproductive problems.
In January of 2012, Christopher Portier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health, suggested that the EPA investigate the potential for contamination of food products. If livestock are grazing in contaminated land or drinking contaminated water, these contaminants could taint meat, cheese or eggs. Vegetables irrigated with contaminated water may also pose health risks. Unfortunately, the exact chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing fluid have been kept secret. Lawmakers backed by the energy industry installed legislation to maintain the secrecy of the chemical formulas and prevent the corporations from legal responsibility for contamination.
3. Groundwater Contamination
Many cases of groundwater contamination have occurred in the past two years. One of the most severe took place in Dimock, PA. 13 household wells were contaminated with combustible methane, and one exploded. A study by Duke University in 2011 found high levels of methane in 68 wells across Pennsylvania and New York. A follow up study in 2013 attempted to provide a stronger case that this contamination was caused directly by fracking. They found that wells closer to hydrofracking operations contained, on average, six times more methane than those at a greater distance from drilling sites.
On the other side of the nation, researchers with the EPA found high levels of synthetic chemicals, methane, and benzene near drilling operations in Pavilion, Wyoming. These chemicals were found in deep aquifers and wells, indicating that the contamination is widespread. The aquifers play an important role in the water cycle, and their contamination can lead to widespread exposure to these synthetic chemicals and volatile gases.
(Below, awful Republican senator Randy Baumgardner claims that fracking isn’t all that bad on the “Pray in Jesus’ Name” show, demonstrating a remarkable ignorance of basic science.)
A study conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey, published in 2012, indicates a drastic increase in seismic activity in regions where hydraulic fracturing is occurring. The study found that the number of magnitude 3 and greater earthquakes in the midcontinent region of the US has been increasing steadily since 2001. From 1970 to 2000, there were an average of 21 M3 or greater earthquakes in this region per year. This increased to 27 between 2001 and 2008. In 2009, there were 50 such earthquakes. By 2011, this number of events reached 134. The study states that the acceleration in events can be linked to drilling operations in Oklahoma and Arkansas. The U.S. Geological Survey claims that the increase in seismic events is “almost certainly” manmade.
5. Air Quality
Air quality has also been measurably harmed by fracking. Volatile organic compounds like disulfides, benzene, and naphthalene are present in the air around compressor stations used in hydraulic fracturing. One study in Texas found carcinogenic benzene levels 55 times higher than EPA air quality standards. Naphtalene, a known blood poison, was also found to exceed legal limits.
Numerous cases of severe air pollution have also occurred in Burgettstown, PA. Residents describe noxious fumes “wafting in” to the town causing nausea, vomiting, and loss of consciousness. Though these events have not been officially linked to the energy industry, there is extensive fracking in the area. Similar anecdotal cases have emerged across the nation, and experts believe that it is vital to investigate the link to fracking.
The CDC’s Christopher Portier, in an interview with NPR news, stated “There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence out there. And so a well-conducted study looking at a number of communities could help us better understand if there’s an impact, what its magnitude [is] how we should avoid having that impact if there is one.”
Until the direct health effects are understood more clearly, many people are calling for hydraulic fracturing operations to be put on hold. The energy industry is risking everything, from the health of the nation to the stability of the food and water supply that millions rely on. It is important to stand up for these vital resources, and it is through collaborative outlets like the internet and grassroots movements across the nation that the voice of the environment may be heard.
(Below, check out video of the insane “Rocking in Ohio” concert, a pro-fracking propaganda educational program sponsored by Radio Disney and Ohio’s oil and gas industry, performed on a 26-stop tour of elementary schools and science centers across Ohio.)
Update: Luckily, a new analysis strongly suggests that fracking boom estimates have been way off—and that we might see a sharp decline after 2020
(This section by Ultraculture contributor Andrei Burke.)
A recent analysis of the fracking business in the United States has found that estimates made regarding the amount of natural gas that can be extracted by the controversial method is much too high—and that the boom may last just half as long as predicted.
This analysis, conducted by a research team at the University of Texas, contradicts the estimates made by other groups, specifically the Energy Information Administration (EIA). The EIA’s forecasts have largely determined the amount of investment that has gone into fracking in the corporate sector.
“We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly 100 years,” President Barack Obama declared in his 2012 State of the Union address. Fracking has made it possible to coax natural gas out of shale rock for a relatively low cost, leading to an optimism in a “shale revolution” and “energy abundance” in the corporate sector. Companies have bet big on forecasts of a cheap and plentiful natural gas source. Energy producers in the US are expected to invest hundreds of billions of dollars in new fracking plants over the next 20 years, and billions more dollars have poured into the construction of export facilities to ship liquefied natural gas to Europe, Asia and South America.
But those investments have been based on the EIA’s expectation that peak US natural gas production will peak in 2040 and slowly taper after that, carrying us into the next century. Now, the findings of the team at University of Texas strongly suggest that fracking will peak as early as 2020 and see a sharp decline following that.
The estimates differ so dramatically because of the different approaches used to process data. EIA estimates were based on county-wide production in a given area. According to the Texas team, basing estimates on counties isn’t fine enough because county size can greatly vary. The Texas team refined their approach and divided areas into one square mile units. The EIA estimates also require a much higher amount of wells that could feasibly be drilled. The Texas team took into account and excluded areas where it would be difficult to drill, such under lakes or major cities.
These results are “bad news,” says Tad Patzek, head of the University of Texas at Austin’s department of petroleum and geosystems engineering, and a member of the team that conducted the recent analyses.
“We’re setting ourselves up for a major fiasco,” says Patzek, as companies are trying to extract shale gas as quick as possible and export significant quantities.
This could potentially mean the end of fracking on a global scale in the very near future. As US natural gas production collapses, plans to export overseas could dry up. Nations looking to tap their own shale reserves may reconsider.
“If it begins to look as if it’s going to end in tears in the United States, that would certainly have an impact on the enthusiasm in different parts of the world,” says economist Paul Stevens of Chatham House.
Update: 3 Billion Gallons of Fracking Sludge Dumped Into California’s Water Supply (10/10/2014)
(This section by Ultraculture editor Jason Louv.)
As if you don’t need another reason to ban fracking, check out this insanity: Over 3 billion gallons of fracking sludge have been illegally dumped into central California’s drinking water, and its farm irrigation aquifers. The toxins include high levels of lethal arsenic (carcinogenic and immunodisruptive), thallium (an ingredient in rat poison) and nitrates (highly toxic to cattle and other ruminants).
The mainstream media has not touched the story. I literally see one reference in the SFGate, and a report on RT. Are we truly this lost as a society that the wholesale poisoning of one of the richest economies in the world goes completely unreported?
The dump was revealed by the Center for Biological Diversity, which obtained the documents from the state of California.
Via the Center for Biological Diversity:
SAN FRANCISCO— Almost 3 billion gallons of oil industry wastewater have been illegally dumped into central California aquifers that supply drinking water and farming irrigation, according to state documents obtained by the Center for Biological Diversity. The wastewater entered the aquifers through at least nine injection disposal wells used by the oil industry to dispose of waste contaminated with fracking fluids and other pollutants.
The documents also reveal that Central Valley Water Board testing found high levels of arsenic, thallium and nitrates — contaminants sometimes found in oil industry wastewater — in water-supply wells near these waste-disposal operations.
“Clean water is one of California’s most crucial resources, and these documents make it clear that state regulators have utterly failed to protect our water from oil industry pollution,” said Hollin Kretzmann, a Center attorney. “Much more testing is needed to gauge the full extent of water pollution and the threat to public health. But Governor Brown should move quickly to halt fracking to ward off a surge in oil industry wastewater that California simply isn’t prepared to dispose of safely.”
(Below: An oil field worker in North Dakota lights his own tap water on fire, as it is full of fracking run-off. Insane.)
The state’s Water Board confirmed beyond doubt that at least nine wastewater disposal wells have been injecting waste into aquifers that contain high-quality water that is supposed to be protected under federal and state law.
Thallium is an extremely toxic chemical commonly used in rat poison. Arsenic is a toxic chemical that can cause cancer. Some studies show that even low-level exposure to arsenic in drinking water can compromise the immune system’s ability to fight illness.
“Arsenic and thallium are extremely dangerous chemicals,” said Timothy Krantz, a professor of environmental studies at the University of Redlands. “The fact that high concentrations are showing up in multiple water wells close to wastewater injection sites raises major concerns about the health and safety of nearby residents.”
The Center obtained a letter from the State Water Resources Control Board to the Environmental Protection Agency. The letter says that the Central Valley Regional Water Board has confirmed that injection wells have been dumping oil industry waste into aquifers that are legally protected under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. The state Water Board also concedes that another 19 wells may also have contaminated protected aquifers, and dozens more have been injecting waste into aquifers of unknown quality.
The Central Valley Water Board tested eight water-supply wells out of more than 100 in the vicinity of these injection wells. Arsenic, nitrate and thallium exceeded the maximum contaminant level in half the water samples.
The CBD sternly warns that the long-term effects of this dump may take years to manifest:
While the current extent of contamination is cause for grave concern, the long-term threat posed by the unlawful wastewater disposal may be even more devastating. Benzene, toluene and other harmful chemicals used in fracking fluid are routinely found in flowback water coming out of oil wells in California, often at levels hundreds of times higher than what is considered safe, and this flowback fluid is sent to wastewater disposal wells. Underground migration of chemicals like benzene can take years.
In July the state’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources shut down 11 Kern County oil field injection wells and began scrutinizing almost 100 others that were potentially contaminating protected groundwater. The Environmental Protection Agency, which has ultimate legal authority over underground injection, ordered state officials to provide an assessment of the water-contamination risk within 60 days, and the letter from the state Water Board confirms that illegal contamination has occurred at multiple sites.
California’s oil and gas fields produce billions of gallons of contaminated wastewater each year, and much of this contaminated fluid is injected underground. California has an estimated 2,583 wastewater injections wells, of which 1,552 are currently active. Wastewater injection wells are located throughout the state, from the Chico area in Northern California to Los Angeles in the south, and even include offshore wells near Santa Barbara.
If you have any last shreds of doubts about fracking, and whether the people doing it have your best interests in mind, this might be your last wake-up call.