Thanks to hydraulic fracturing, often referred to as fracking, there’s a ton of natural gas available on the market right now. Those in the industry hail the practice as a blessing, allowing gas companies to access deposits locked in previously impenetrable rock. Although many have trumpeted the resulting decline in gas prices as proof that fracking needs to continue, they’ve kept details of its undesirable consequences closer to the chest.
It doesn’t take years of scientific studies to get an idea of what fracking can and is doing to the environment. Slowly but surely, the effects of fracking and fracking wastewater storage have emerged from those in communities closest to the drilling operations. These men, women and children are living with the risks of fracking every day. It’s their homes and businesses, their health and wellness that’s being affected.
Still skeptical? All right then. Read on for legitimate scientific studies that have linked natural gas fracking to three horrible catastrophes over the last few years.
1. Flammable Drinking Water
If you’ve seen the movie Gasland, you already know that one of the first and most obvious ways to tell if your community has been poisoned by fracking is to turn on the faucet. In scores of towns all over America, residents have noted that what should be clean drinking water is actually a flammable cocktail of untold toxicity.
In May 2011, the first scientific study linking natural gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing with a pattern of drinking water contamination was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The peer-reviewed research found that levels of flammable methane gas in drinking water wells increased to dangerous levels when those water supplies were close to natural gas wells. They also found that the gas detected at high levels in the water was the same type of gas that energy companies were extracting, strongly implying that the gas may be seeping underground through natural or manmade faults and fractures, or coming from cracks in the well structure itself.
The EPA, which insists that fracking is completely harmless, seems to be at odds with its own research that found two Pennsylvania water wells to be contaminated by natural gas with a chemical fingerprint from the heavily-fracked Marcellus Shale.
2. Poisoned Food Supply
The Nation recently published an article about Jacki Schilke, a cattle rancher in the Bakken shale area of North Dakota. There are 32 oil and gas wells within three miles of her ranch. In the summer of 2010, there was a problem at one of the wells. Soon Schilke observed cattle limping with swollen legs and infections. Slowly, the cows stopped producing milk, some of the animals lost from 60 to 80 pounds in a week and their tails fell off.
Air testing on the Schilke ranch found benzene, methane, chloroform, butane, propane, toluene and xylene — toxic substances that can cause serious illnesses, including cancer. Water testing found sulfates, chromium, chloride strontium and selenium.
Earlier this year, Michelle Bamberger, an Ithaca veterinarian, and Robert Oswald, a professor of molecular medicine at Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine, published the first (and, so far, only) peer-reviewed report to suggest a link between fracking and illness in food animals. The study chronicled the experiences of 24 farmers in six shale-gas states whose livestock experienced neurological, reproductive and acute gastrointestinal problems.
3. Manmade Earthquakes
Creating tiny fractures through which toxic chemicals and fracking wastewater can reach public drinking water supplies isn’t the only thing that happens when natural gas companies drill a new well. At this week’s annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union, attendees will be treated to not one but two new studies linking a recent increase in significant earthquakes to the reinjection of wastewater fluids from unconventional oil and gas drilling.
The first study notes “significant earthquakes are increasingly occurring within the United States midcontinent” and concludes that a recent 5.7 magnitude earthquake in Oklahoma was “likely triggered by fluid injection.” The second study, focusing on the Raton Basin of Southern Colorado/Northern New Mexico, was conducted by a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) team.
The study concludes “the majority, if not all of the earthquakes since August 2001 have been triggered by the deep injection of wastewater related to the production of natural gas from the coal-bed methane field here.” In April and May, two small earthquakes near Blackpool, in England also contributed to suspicions of a link between earthquakes and fracking. Surprisingly, the company responsible, Cuadrilla Resources, admitted that its shale fracking operations were indeed responsible.
Image via marcellusprotest/Flickr