Fracking in Photos

Photograph by Eugene Richards, retrieved from National Geographic.

Photograph by Eugene Richards, retrieved from National Geographic.

National Geographic published this photo series illustrating “The New Oil Landscape”, shedding light on the widespread effects of fracking in North Dakota along the Bakken Shale. To view the full series, head to http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2013/03/bakken-shale-oil/richards-photography#/

The following video accompanies the series, providing a clear explanation of the process at work behind the photos.

http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2013/03/bakken-shale-oil/fracking-animation-video

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Putting out Fire with Fire : Fracking and Flammable Water

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Substantial scientific evidence has revealed strong linkages between hydraulic fractring activity and groundwater contamination. This has manifested throughout the United States in the form of neurological and reproductive damage, severely ailing livestock and visibly polluted tap water, to name a few. However, more dramatic indicators of the dangers associated with fracking have been documented in Dimock, Pennsylvania, located in the natural gas mecca of the Marcellus Shale. In Dimock, contaminated water can be identified through a simple yet dangerous home science experiment, involving a match held to a running tap. If the water is indeed contaminated, the bizarre phenomenon of a stream of water bursting into flame provides clear evidence of traces of methane.

Flammable tap water in Dimock has been linked to traces of methane detected in drinking water wells. A study conducted by Duke University explores the connection between hydraulic fracturing and water contamination in the Marcellus Shale area by testing drinking water wells in proximity to natural gas wells. Findings from this study reveal that the type of gas detected at high levels in the water was the same type of gas that the drilling companies were extracting (Lustgarten, 2011). This indicates that the gas may be seeping underground through the fractures created during the hydraulic fracturing process, in addition to any other natural or man-made crevasses (Lustgarten, 2011). Of the wells tested closest to the gas wells, water samples on average contained 17 times the levels of methane detected in wells further from drilling, further illustrating the connection between drilling and contamination (Lustgarten, 2011).

Incidents of methane contamination have been widely experienced in gas drilling areas including Colorado and Ohio in addition to Pennsylvania. In all cases, residents concluded that there had been no issue with contamination prior to the onset of drilling operations. In an attempt to deflect accusations, gas companies have attributed the cause of methane infiltration to natural causes. Biogenic, naturally occurring methane, can be detected in water samples from fracking sites. However, samples collected during the Duke investigation indicated high concentrations of thermogenic methane, which is derived from the same hydrocarbon layers where gas drilling is targeted, thus again proving the direct link between hydraulic fracturing and contamination (Lustgarten, 2011).

Residents of Dimock, PA., are among those who have witnessed the dramatic and perilous effects of methane contamination. A drinking water well on the property of local resident Norma Fiorentino provides an example of the damages resulting from drilling. In this case, stray gas from a nearby gas well had worked its way into crevasses within the rock, gradually leaking upwards into the aquifer and eventually into her well. A spark created by a motorized pump inside the well house triggered an explosion due to the build up of fumes within (Lustgarten, 2009). This is not a singular phenomenon in Dimock, where many drinking water wells have exploded under the operation of Cabot Oil & Gas. In one case, a local resident was advised to “open a window if he planned to take a bath” due to the build up of methane in his well (Lustgarten, 2009). A particularly treacherous explosion in Cleveland, OH resulted in the lifting of a house clear off the ground due to gas build up in the basement. Investigation into this explosion revealed the at fault party to be a nearby drilling company that had failed to adequately build protective concrete casing, while continuing to operate the well (Lustgarten, 2009).

Methane becomes dangerous when it evaporates out of water and into people’s homes. At this point it becomes flammable, and also can cause suffocation to those who breathe it. Concentrations of methane can cause headaches, nausea, brain damage and eventually death (Lustgarten, 2011). In poverty stricken areas, such as Dimock, residents saw the arrival of hydraulic fracturing operations as a blessing, delivering them from their financial woes. However, as improper protective measures continue and the destructive process causes stray gas to seep into drinking water wells, residents are faced with the dilemma of sacrificing their economic wellbeing, or their health.

The following video portrays some of the impacted residents of Dimock, PA due to persistent gas drilling by Cabot Oil and Gas:

This video emphasizes the extreme effects of methane infiltration in drinking water:

Sources and Further Reading:

Lustgarten, A. (2009). Officials in Three States Pin Water Woes on Gas Drilling. ProPublica.
http://www.propublica.org/article/officials-in-three-states-pin-water-woes-on-gas-drilling-426

Lustgarten, A. (2011). Scientific Study Links Flammable Drinking Water to Fracking. ProPublica. http://www.propublica.org/article/scientific-study-links-flammable-drinking-water-to-fracking by Abrahm Lustgarten

Fractured Ground: Fracking Linked to Earthquake Activity

Ohio-earthquake-fracking-wellsAs the adverse effects associated with hydraulic fracturing grow more apparent in human, animal and environmental health, so too do they become of growing concern for the earth as a whole. The process of fracking is inherently destructive, jeopardizing the health of ecosystems and their inhabitants at every phase. The effects of the toxic slew of chemicals when injected into the earth do not just affect health, but have also been linked to the advent of low magnitude earthquakes.

Considering the disruptive nature of the process, involving the drilling of a vertical well many kilometers beneath the earth’s surface, followed by directionally drilling horizontally to expose shale to fracturing fluids, the resulting increase in seismic activity near fracking sites may not come as a surprise. Studies exploring the connection between hydraulic fracturing and earthquake activity have determined the cause of the quakes to be both the initial injection of fracturing fluids, and more commonly, the reinjection of wastewater.

The injection of fluids into the earth’s subsurface in the initial phase of fracking can lubricate existing fault zones, helping adjoining rocks to slip along the fault boundary (Palliser, 2012). This movement that the fluids facilitate, results in an earthquake. Earthquakes also occur as a result of the reinjection of wastewater fluids into sandstone at a depth equal to that of the original well causing slippages of faults at the injection site (Fischetti, 2012).

This correlation between fracking activity and seismic activity is evident in Oklahoma, witnessing an increase in the number of earthquakes occurring near hydraulic fracturing sites due to both drilling and waste injection (Clary, 2015). Further research into the causes and effects of these earthquakes has been linked to the operations of four Oklahoma high volume wastewater wells, resulting in earthquake activity up to 35 kilometers away (Clary, 2015). Studies linked to Oklahoma’s recent burst in seismic activity, including several earthquakes of over 3.0 magnitude within the first half of 2014, has led to the conclusion that earthquake events such as these can produce seismic events near wastewater wells “even a hemisphere away” (Clary, 2015).

Oklahoma is not the only state experiencing the groundshaking effects of fracking. In December 2011, the state of Ohio was shaken by two earthquakes occurring within .8 kilometers from the hydraulic fracturing injection well. Earlier that year, nine earthquakes shook the state between March and November, all within an 8 kilometer radius of a wastewater injection well. It is estimated that Ohio will continue to experience earthquakes, even if fracking operations are suspended due to the destructive process of wastewater disposal (Fischetti, 2012).

Sources and Further Reading:

“It was heaven. It turned out to be hell.”

High activity fracking operations in Bradford County, PA. have resulted in many spills and leaks that compromise the health of residents. Retrieved from http://www.nofrackingway.us/2013/08/16/fracking-or-housing/

High activity fracking operations in Bradford County, PA. have resulted in many spills and leaks that compromise the health of residents. Retrieved from http://www.nofrackingway.us/2013/08/16/fracking-or-housing/

The Fuss Over Fracking:The Dilemma of a New Gas Boom

This video by TIME reveals the personal dimension of harm associated with the shale gas industry. In Bradford County, Pennsylvania, residents experience displacement and fear due to the dangers associated with nearby operations.

In 2009, a couple living in northeastern Pennsylvania acquired their dream home in the country. Unfortunately, due to rising hydraulic fracturing operations throughout Pennsylvania, a Chesapeake Energy well became their neighbour only 400 meters away. Now, after two incidents of hydraulic fracturing fluid spills, the Pennsylvania couple are hesitant about residing in their new home, as they are “afraid of the water”.

The Marcellus shale runs under almost all of Pennsylvania and constitutes the second largest deposit of natural gas in the world, thus attracting the shale gas industry stimulating a major boom in operations. As a result, there is an increase in concern among residents of Pennsylvania ranging from the sudden death of livestock to methane polluted drinking water.

This video outlines the process of fracking, illustrating the means through which chemicals can enter and contaminate groundwater supplies. Also included is interview footage with a hotel chain owner in Bradford County, Pennsylvania, who is thrilled by the boom in industry, claiming to be “110% behind the gas industry”. An influx of gas industry employees in the area has greatly benefitted the hotel business in Bradford County, a town in which 93% of land is leased to gas industries.

Companies such as Chesapeake Energy in Pennsylvania advertise fracking as clean and safe energy alternative. However, as concerns grow among residents, accounts of flaming tap water and livestock death may help to dispel the deceptions of the gas industry.

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You are what you eat…

If the saying is true, it may be time for a change in diet. Or, for residents of states affected by shale gas drilling such as Colorado, Louisiana, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania or Texas, a change of address. A study by veterinarian Michelle Bamberger and molecular medicine professor Robert Oswald sheds light on the risks posed to animal and human health by hydraulic fracturing occurring on farmland by conducting interviews with animal owners in the above listed six states. The cases documented in their 2012 paper involve farms located near high volume hydraulic fracturing wells.

Hydraulic fracturing requires a toxic cocktail of chemicals and water, present at the injection site and persisting in wastewater. Among the numerous deadly chemicals hydraulic fracturing fluid contains are petroleum hydrocarbons and quaternary ammonium compounds, both reported to cause lesions in the lung, liver, kidneys,intestines and trachea. Oswald and Bamberger outline the species affected by these chemicals and chronicle the damage and impairment they undergo. Among the impacted species are white tailed deer, cows, fish and poultry, commonly subject to reproductive issues and sudden death since the arrival of shale gas wells (Bamberger and Oswald, 2012).

The most widely affected species in this study, the cow, demonstrates the excruciating degree of harm hydraulic fracturing operations inflict. Exposure to dangerous chemicals utilized in fracking occur in many ways, the most common being exposure through affected ponds or creaks due to wastewater leakage or improper fencing of waste impoundments. Exposure also occurs due to pipeline leaks, compressor station malfunction and well flaring. In an extreme case, direct exposure to fracking fluid occurred when a worker shut down a chemical blender during the fracturing process, releasing fluids into a nearby cow pasture resulting in the death of 17 cows in one hour.Typically, exposure to hydraulic fracturing fluids results in death 1-3 days post exposure (Bamberger and Oswald, 2012).

The most common health impact on cattle when exposed to hydraulic fracturing fluids results in reproductive issues. This manifests in several ways, including an increase in stillborn calves, often with congenital abnormalities. Other causes of death include respiratory failure, circulatory collapse, and acute liver or kidney failure. The role played by hydraulic fracturing in the impairment and death of numerous herds of cattle cannot be denied. In a particular case, one farmer had his cows separated into two pastures, one with a creek and one without. Of the 60 cows exposed to the creek water where wastewater had been dumped, 21 died and 16 failed to reproduce. All of the cows in the separate field were unaffected (Bamberger and Oswald, 2012).

Also included in the study are companion animals such as dogs, cats, llamas and horses. The most frequent incident of exposure for these animals occurs when contaminated water is consumed from a well, spring creek or pond. This results most commonly in reproductive and neurological problems as well as gastrointestinal and dermatological issues. In one case documented by Oswald and Bamberger, a previously healthy female dog gave birth to 15 puppies; of which 7 were stillborn, and 8 died within 24 hours. All of which were born with a complete or partial absence of hair(Bamberger and Oswald, 2012).

The severe effects of hydrofracking fluid are not restricted to animals. Toxicology tests were conducted on the owners of companion animals and farm animals, and the results are not coincidental. Commonly occurring in residents in proximity to shale gas wells is arsenic poisoning, with symptons of severe abdominal pain, backache and fatigue. Arsenic is a naturally occurring substance in shale, and is surfaced during hydraulic fracturing through wastewater. The negligent storing of wastewater and dumping into creeks and ponds results in arsenic poisoning. Long term effects of arsenic poisoning include peripheral neuropathy in humans and partial paralysis and fetal death in animals (Bamberger and Oswald, 2012).

The results from this study help us to understand the extreme effects of hydraulic fracturing on both animal and human health. This is of growing concern as fracking operations accelerate and drilling companies refuse to disclose all of the dangerous chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing fluid, furtively declaring the contents to be a “trade secret”. For humans there is concern both for residents of these affected states, as well as the greater population consuming meat that may have been exposed. In many cases, food producing animals are not tested for contaminants before slaughter, while farms in areas testing positive for air and water contamination do not test meat or dairy products before consumption. A possible solution suggested by Bamberger and Oswald is increased funding for food safety research to protect ourselves from further harm. In order to reduce the suffering of livestock as well, greater efforts are required to adequately deal with wastewater. Metal containers have been proposed as an alternative to open air impoundments that have had a disastrous history of leaking into farmland (Bamberger and Oswald, 2012).

The contamination associated with hydraulic fracturing has infiltrated every necessary aspect of human survival. It is in our water, in our air, on our land and in our food. If the extraction and provision of oil remains a priority, the menu for survival may be up for revision.

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Sources and further reading:
Bamberger, M., Oswald, R. (2012). Impacts of Gas Drilling on Human and Animal Health. Scientific Solutions. 22 (1). pg 51-77. http://www.psehealthyenergy.org/data/Bamberger_Oswald_NS22_in_press.pdf