Fracking, the common name for hydraulic fracturing, is a process used to extract natural gas from layers of shale deep beneath the surface of the Earth. Fracking has become popular with energy companies because the horizontal nature of the drilling allows them to reach natural gas reserves that were previously unavailable. Water and other fluids are pumped along the layers of shale to fracture it allowing natural gas a new way to escape and be collected.
There is evidence that the chemicals that are mixed with the fracking water can cause damage to the kidneys, liver, lungs, blood and brain. Of the 944 products that are used during the natural gas extraction process, over 75% of them can have an effect on the skin, eyes, sensory organs, respiratory system and gastrointestinal systems. 50% of them could have long term effects on the brain, immune system and the kidneys, and 25% are known to cause cancer. The majority of these health concerns have long latency periods. Since there are relatively few immediate effects outside of ½ mile of the fracturing site, the concerns are brushed aside by the energy companies.
The EPA listed these as the known risks of fracking:
- Stress on surface water and ground water supplies from the withdrawal of large volumes of water used in drilling and hydraulic fracturing;
- Contamination of underground sources of drinking water and surface waters resulting from spills, faulty well construction, or by other means;
- Adverse impacts from discharges into surface waters or from disposal into underground injection wells; and
- Air pollution resulting from the release of volatile organic compounds, hazardous air pollutants, and greenhouse gases.
Here is the problem – people living within ½ mile of the fracking site are exposed to high amounts of benzene, methane, hydrogen sulfide and other volatile organic compounds. Most of these gases are heavier than the surrounding atmosphere and settle in low-lying areas around the site. The short term effects of exposure to these gases include headaches, confusion, increased pulse and fatigue.
The health effects don’t stop at the ½ mile range, though. The gases that are released during fracking don’t all follow the fracture that the gas company would like them to. Gases also travel up into underground aquifers and contaminate ground water. The contaminants that reach this ground water get dissolved and are distributed to people, livestock and crops. The affected area can’t be easily determined because opening the fractures is not an exact science. And since aquifers can run for hundreds of miles, there is no telling how far the contamination could spread. That means those contaminants end up in the food that is produced and can be distributed anywhere in the country.
An even more upsetting issue is that scientists on the payroll of energy companies are trying to keep a lid on how serious this problem could become. That, coupled with politicians being lobbied by energy companies to continue the fracking process, has led to much of the evidence for the health risks of fracking being buried. It’s a simple case of throwing money at something to make it go away. And energy conglomerates have a lot of money. In the last year there has been some action in congress, but not enough to stop fracking from growing.
It might take people actually dying from fracking related diseases to bring this to a head. It is starting to look a lot like a rerun of what happened to the silica miners in West Virginia in 1930. Hopefully the government does the right thing and protects its citizens from this corporate greed.
Do you live near a fracking site? Are you getting sick because of it? Let us know what is being done for you.