Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” has gained popularity across the world thanks to idea that natural gas could be the bridge fuel we’ve all been waiting for to wean us off our fossil fuel addiction. Burning natural gas is considered “cleaner” and creates fewer greenhouse gas emissions, but the extraction process that makes this natural gas possible pretty much negates all of these supposed environmental accolades … and then some.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that up to 140 billion gallons of water are used for fracking every single year. Not only does this mean that fracking is sucking up precious fresh water supplies, but all of that water gets mixed with “trade secret” chemicals, many of which are known or suspected human carcinogens, and heavy metals during the extraction process rendering it unsafe for reuse. As a result, billions of gallons of toxic water are left to sit in massive lagoons, or injected into designated aquifers. And the thing about toxic water is it doesn’t really like to stay in one place.
Communities where fracking wells have been built are known to experience water pollution, air pollution and soil contamination which tragically results in an increase of diseases, like cancer, and other troublesome health impacts.
Now, to most reasonable humans, this would be reason enough to end the process of fracking altogether, but as we can see from the Senate’s approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline, this is not the case. What makes matters even more troubling is the fact that fracking companies are going to extreme lengths to ensure that their “good” image is kept in tact. After all, when they promote the fact that natural gas will end our dependence on foreign oil and provide huge pay offs for land owners who allow fracking … why would we even care about something as trivial as cancer?
So please, be a Green Monster, don’t be fooled by all the noise created by the natural gas industry. Here are some nearly unbelievable examples of things they have done to ensure that their business of creating pollution … or, um, “energy” … is allowed to continue.
1. Legal Gag Orders for Children
In 2011, the Hallowich family accused the fracking company, Ranges Resource Corp., of polluting their 10-acre farm in Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania. The family’s farm was adjacent to a major fracking operation where that included four extraction wells, gas compressor stations and a waste water pond. The waste water pond had contaminated the family’s drinking water supply, causing them to suffer from burning eyes, sore throats and headaches. While these may seem like minor effects, continued exposure to the chemicals used in fracking can lead to serious health problems.
The Hallowich’s sued Ranges Resources Corp. for polluting their water and the case reached a $750,000 settlement deal that allowed the family to sell their land and move off the polluted property. In addition to this payment, the Hallowich family was forced to sign a sweeping gag order that would prevent the family from speaking about fracking or the Marcellus shale formation for the rest of their lives. These kind of gag orders are common in fracking settlements, but this particular order extended the order to the Hallowich’s two children who were seven and 10 at the time. This gag order for children is the first of its kind and means that these minors will be prohibited from discussing anything related to fracking for the rest of their lives.
You’ve got to be fracking joking, right?
2. Keeping Trade Secrets, Secret
So what are the chemical ingredients used in fracking fluids? Well, the public may never know for sure. The precise ingredients used in the chemical cocktail that is fracking fluid are protected from public disclosure due to trade secret protection.
Wyoming was the first state that required fracking companies to disclose the ingredients in fracking fluid to state regulators, however, these top secret ingredients are still not available to the public. So why is this so dastardly? If the public does not have access to the ingredients in fracking fluid, they cannot tie the pollutants they find in their water or soil back to fracking companies definitively.
In Pennsylvania, farmers have noted that when their cows drink from ponds, thought to be polluted with fracking by-products, the number of stillborn calves born increases exponentially. While individuals can sue natural gas companies for pollution, thanks to gag orders and non-disclosure agreements, the public is further shielded of knowing if fracking fluids were indeed responsible for health problems and other negative impacts.
3. Shipping in Clean Water
It is estimated that between six and seven percent of all fracking wells will develop leaks shortly after drilling begins, allowing fracking fluid to leak into surrounding soil and waterways. In 2012 alone, fracking wells produced 280 billion gallons of wastewater. If only seven percent of well leak, that means that 19.6 billion gallons of toxic waste water could leak and find its way into waterways. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, waste water can contain harmful pollutants such as salts, organic hydrocarbons (oil and grease products), naturally occurring radioactive materials, ammonia, sulfates, nitrates and many other chemicals.
While the exact figures of how much waste water contaminates waterways that provide clean drinking water to people are unknown, one of the tactics that the natural gas industry has taken to to quell complaints about water pollution is to ship in fresh drinking water.
Matt Manning, a Pennsylvania resident whose home is located on the Marcellus Shale formation claims that his family’s water started to turn black and bubble after drilling began in the area. When his family would shower they would be consumed with the polluted water and cough and choke. To remedy the situation, the state of Pennsylvania required that the gas companies deliver fresh water to the effected families, however, this is only a short-term solution to a serious problem.
What Can You Do?
Standing up to natural gas companies can seem like an incredibly daunting task, but as more and more people do, municipal and state governments are taking steps to ban fracking from their limits. Gag orders and trade secrets are designed by the natural gas industry to keep people from sharing their stories about how fracking has harmed their health. It is up to us to learn from the fraccidents of the past and proactively stand up against fracking before it is too late.
Click here to find out if you live near an active fracking well. If you do and you are concerned about your health and the health of others, start a petition to ban fracking from your town. Check out EarthJustice to hear more stories about towns who have banned fracking and learn what you can do to do the same!
Image source: Todd Kravos/Flickr