Fracking (aka, hydraulic fracturing or industrial gas drilling) is a dangerous way of getting oil and gas and a shortsighted energy strategy. It's poisoning our air and water and on its way to jeopardizing the health of millions more Americans. When you first hear about it and our ability to access it widely in the United States, it sounds like a great idea. “Energy independence”.
But if you begin to look more deeply into how the gas is extracted from the ground, especially in parts of the country responsible for our food supply, you quickly learn how this might be affecting our food, our farmers and our livestock.
Fracking takes place when wells are drilled into the ground to reach lower levels of the earth where natural gas is stored. To create those wells, 1 to seven million gallons of water are used to blast the ground open.
Once the well has been created, the fracking begins, using anywhere between 1 to seven million gallons of water, along with a mix of up to about 500 chemicals. This mix of chemicals is proprietary to the industry that does the drilling which means we don’t know what is in this cocktail that is blast into the ground.
If it stayed there, maybe that wouldn’t be a problem. But it doesn’t. Half of the water that goes down into the earth comes back up and is stored in pools on the surface near the wells. The water is called “flowback water” or “produced” water.
These open holding tanks not only contain this water but also the chemicals that went down with it. Some of these pools are left standing, others are intentionally evaporated, releasing these chemicals back into the air.
And in Colorado this week, these flooded.
Interestingly, at the same time that Colorado was blanked in water now contaminated with all of these chemicals, agricultural pesticides and sewage, a Cornell University study was released that highlights what happens to the livestock that live on farms close to fracking wells.
According to , “Professor Oswald, an expert on molecular medicine at Cornell University, compiled 24 incidents across six US states where livestock on farms adjacent to drilling sites died or suffered illness including reproductive and neurological problems potentially following exposure to fracking chemicals.”
His warnings are stark, but what is even more striking is that British operators must release details of the chemicals they use. In the United States, that is not required. Here in the US, the blend of chemicals used is protected as proprietary information which means that there is no way of knowing which chemicals are being used and the extent of the environmental and health damage that might be created.
So what is the concern? Professor Oswald : “We are reporting short-term health changes but no one knows what the long-term health changes may be, especially those caused by low doses of chemicals.”
likely will be mixed with a stew of agricultural pesticides, sewage, gasoline from service stations and other contaminants, said Mike King, executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources to the
There are more than 20,000 wells in the surrounding areas and 3,200 permits for open pits in Weld County, according to state data.
“Any flood that breeches a wastewater pit will flush the waste and contaminated sediments into streams and rivers,” Duke University Professor of Environmental Sciences told . “Another concern is pipeline ruptures for oil and gas lines.”
As these chemicals blanket Colorado and the state and industry work torather than wait ten years to find out, perhaps it’s time that we begin asking these questions.
By Robyn O’Brien
………Robyn O’Brien grew up in Texas and was recruited by Enron and Exxon out of business school