- Hydraulic fracking involves using pressurized fluids
to fracture rock layers to release oil, gas, coal seam gas, or other substances.
- Earthworks says the process provides easier access to
deposits and lets oil or gas "travel more easily from the rock pores,"
where it's trapped, "to the production well."
- Fractures are created by pumping mixtures of water, proppants
(sand or ceramic beads) and chemicals into rock or coal formations.
- "Acidizing involves pumping acid (usually hydrochloric
acid) into the formation." It dissolves rock so pores open for easier
flows. Fracking and acidizing are often done together. Studies show from
20 - 40% of fracking fluids remain underground.
- Fracking fluids contain hazardous toxic chemicals, known
to cause cancer and other diseases. They include diesel fuel, containing
benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene, xylene, naphthalene and other chemicals.
- They also include polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, methanol,
formaldehyde, ethylene glycol, glycol ethers, hydrochloric acid, and sodium
- Small amounts of benzene alone can contaminate millions
of gallons of groundwater used for human consumption. According to the
EPA, 10 of 11 US coalbed methane (CBM) basins are located at least partially
in areas of underground sources of drinking water (USDW).
- EPA also determined that nine or more harmful to human
health fracking chemicals are used in normal operations. "These chemicals
may be injected (in) concentrations anywhere from 4 to almost 13,000 times"
above acceptable amounts.
- According to hydrodynamics expert John Bredehoeft:
- "At greatest risk of contamination are the coalbed
aquifers currently used as sources of drinking water."
- "(C)ontamination associated with hydrofracturing
(can) threaten the usefulness of aquifers for future use."
- At issue also is obtaining information on specific fracking
chemicals used. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC),
oil and gas companies won't release what they call "proprietary information."
- Current regulations exempt oil and gas drilling from
major environmental laws, including the Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean
Air Act, and Clean Water Act.
- On March 3, 2011, New York Times writer Ian Urbina headlined,
"Pressure Limits Effort to Police Drilling for Gas,"saying:
- In 1987, congressional lawmakers weren't told about hazardous
wastes from oil and gas drilling in an EPA report. Author Carla Greathouse
discussed them, but they were excluded.
- "It was like science didn't matter," she said.
"The industry was going to get what it wanted, and we were not supposed
to stand in the way."
- Her experience wasn't isolated. "More than a quarter-century
of efforts by some lawmakers and regulators to force the federal government
to police the industry better have been thwarted, as EPA studies have been
repeatedly narrowed in scope and important findings have been removed."
- Pressure is applied to cut red tape to help energy companies
reduce dependency on foreign imports. Natural gas drilling companies are
exempted from at least parts of seven sweeping environmental laws, regulating
clean air and water.
- In 2004, EPA studied hydrofracking, discovering hazardous
contamination of one or more acquifers. However, a sanitized report said
the process "poses little or not threat to drinking water."
- Afterwards, "EPA whisleblower (Weston Wilson) said
the agency had been strongly influenced by industry and political pressure."
- "It was shameful," he said, explaining that
"five of the seven members of the study's peer review panel were current
or former employees of the oil and gas industry."
- Yet the study became "the basis for this industry
getting yet another exemption from federal law when it should have resulted
in greater regulation...."
- In 2010, the EPA began studying hydrofracking's environmental
impact. However, responding to industry pressure, its scope is limited
and final results won't be published until 2014.
- Initial plans called for considering toxic fume dangers
released during drilling, the impact of drilling waste on food and water,
and risks of radioactive waste.
- Yet final study plans removed them. Earlier ones also
called for studying landfill runoff contamination risks where drilling
waste is dumped. This was also excluded despite EPA officials acknowledging
that sewage treatment plants can't properly treat drilling waste before
it's discharged in waterways near or supplying drinking water.
- Moreover, regional studies underway or planned will be
cancelled, further narrowing the possibility of full and accurate reports
of hydrofracking's harm to human health.
- EPA scientists said high-level administration pressure
thwarted efforts to institute more rigorous enforcement even though some
in Congress want it. Recipients of industry campaign contributions (bribes),
of course, strongly oppose any regulations.
- The Times quoted White House energy and climate director
Carol Browner as 1997 Clinton administration EPA head telling 60 Minutes:
- "Whatever comes out of the ground, you don't have
to test it. You don't have to understand what's in it. You can dump it
- Discussing oil and gas industry toxic waste exemptions,
she added that "Congress should revisit this loophole." At the
same time, her history shows strong industry support. For example, in 1995,
she helped ensure hydrofracking was excluded from parts of the Safe Drinking
- Today, widespread natural gas drilling "is forcing
the EPA to wrestle with questions of jurisdiction over individual states
and how to police the industry despite extensive exemptions from federal
- Contamination is a serious problem. "The stakes
are particularly high in Pennsylvania, where gas drilling is expanding
quickly, and where EPA officials say drilling waste is being discharged
with inadequate treatment into rivers" providing drinking water for
16 million people.
- At issue, of course, is why is this allowed to go on
when human health risks are so high. Moreover, federal laws are ignored.
For example, ones affecting sewage treatment plants say operators have
to know what's in waste they're receiving and must assure it's safe before
discharging it in waterways.
- However, in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, EPA lawyers say
rules are broken. One unnamed official said:
- "Treatment plants are not allowed under federal
law to process mystery liquids, regardless of what the state tells them.
Mystery liquids are exactly what this drilling waste is, since their ingredient
toxins aren't known."
- "The bottom line is that under the Clean Water Act,
dilution is not the solution to pollution. Sewage treatment plants are
legally obligated to treat, not dilute, the waste."
- Yet plants "are breaking the law. Everyone is looking
the other way," so people in Pennsylvania and elsewhere are ingesting
hazardous toxins authorities aren't preventing from ending up in drinking
- Moreover, when federal regulations are lax, enforcement
is left up to states that fall short by bowing to industry pressure.
- According to Earthworks, it's "unconscionable that
EPA is allowing (hazardous) substances" to contaminate drinking water
across America. It's as bad that too few people understand the risk and
aren't raising hell to stop it.
- Against them are powerful industry giants muscling through
Congress and regulatory agencies like EPA whatever they wish. They're doing
it for planned Marcellus Shale development. It extends over eastern US
states, including New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, West Virginia
- They want no hydrofracking restrictions impeding gas
drilling, no matter the cost to human health. Extracting it from shale
deposits holds potential to give America the world's largest supply. It's
believed Marcellus Shale alone has enough gas to sustain US needs for 14
or more years, maybe longer depending on how much is found.
- Moreover, Utica Shale Appalachian Basin deposits are
believed to be larger. Obama's "energy independence" goal and
subservience to industry wishes drive Washington's cooperation. With significant
revenue potential, local officials do the same.
- As a result, regulatory restraints are abandoned despite
known fracking hazards, including reckless use of toxic chemicals and their
- In a race to capitalize on industry potential, states
are brazenly supporting energy company interests at the expense of their
residents. Pennsylvania, in fact, became hydrofracking's wild west. New
wells under development doubled from 2009 to 2010 at the cost of contaminated
drinking water increasing at an alarming rate.
- Hundreds of millions of gallons of toxic waste fluids
are dumped into rivers and streams annually. No regulations prohibit it.
Wastewater treatment plants can't flush out toxins let alone dangerous
radioactive materials contaminating areas forever.
- In addition, recycling methods don't work because with
each use, waste fluids become more contaminated, compounding the problem
of ultimate disposal.
- Moreover, the longer unsustainable practices continue,
the harder it will be to find workable solutions. Planned Marcellus Shale
development alone calls for at least 50,000 new wells in the next two decades,
up from 6,400 permitted now.
- At this pace, contaminated drinking water will cause
epidemic illness levels affecting tens of millions of people across vast
areas where hydrofracking occurs. Corrupted politicians in bed with oil
and gas interests allow it, abandoning public safety.
- For example, C. Alan Walker heads Pennsylvania's Department
of Community and Economic Development (DCED), given regulatory-free authority
to expedite job creation. His mandate says by any means, including by
hazardous hydrofracking drilling.
- Similar measures are freeing gas drillers throughout
the region and elsewhere. Nationwide, business, not public needs, are served.
In potentially rich energy areas, caution and environmental laws are trashed
to give drillers free reign.
- Energy giants only want profits. Bought off politicians
cooperate. Public health and environmental concerns are abandoned. Vast
parts of America now are contaminated.
- Imagine how much worse they'll be as hydrofracking drills
thousands more wells.
- Today's nightmare may be expanded beyond remediation,
at least in our lifetimes unless public rage stops it. Corrupt politicians
won't do it.
- Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at
- Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and
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