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.

Fracking Farmland 615px

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

Drinking dollars?

Image retrieved from http://ecowatch.com/2014/06/16/wyoming-fracking-water-contamination-investigation/

Pavillion, WY resident Louis Meeks’ holds up well water containing methane gas, hydrocarbons, lead and copper, according to the EPA’s test results in this 2013 photo. Photo credit: Abrahm Lustgarten/ProPublica

In 1990, residents of Pavillion, Wyoming first began to notice something was wrong with their water. Oil wells in backyards were causing tap water to turn black and taste like gas. Over 20 years later, in 2011, the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finally made the connection between fracking and groundwater contamination (Zeidel et. al, 2011). Residents in Pavillion living on sites of wells drilled by oil giant Encana complained of foul smelling and undrinkable water in 2008, spurring the EPA to begin conducting tests. The EPA drilled wells of their own in the area and discovered the water tested was highly alkaline and contained large concentrations of potassium and chloride as well as synthetic chemicals, petroleum hydrocarbons and traces of diesel fuel (Zeidel et. al, 2011). The presence of these chemicals was linked to problems with the cementing of the casing used to line the wells, thus allowing the fracturing fluid to penetrate well water supplies (Zeidel et al, 2011). As a result, residents of Pavillion have experienced neurological impairment, loss of smell and nerve pain (Lustgarten, 2011).

Spokesman of Encana Doug Hock maintains that there is low probability that fracking has led to water pollution, however hydraulic fracturing is an inherently dangerous process, posing threats to water supply at all levels of production. Fracking only one well requires enough water to fill seven olympic sized swimming pools (Deveau, 2014). The extraction phase of the process requires water to be mixed with a toxic swill of chemicals (Deveau, 2014). During the injection process, fluids can leak to other areas. Leakoff, if not controlled, causes the injected fluids to leak into drinking water aquifers (Palliser, 2012).

After injection, the internal pressure of the rock formation causes the fluid to return to the surface. (Palliser, 2012). This is called flowback, a liquid containing both the injected chemicals as well as naturally occurring materials such as hydrocarbons, brines, metals and radio nuclides (Palliser, 2012). In order to be disposed of, flowback is often injected underground, or treated and reused at wastewater treatment plants. Problems occur with each method. In Ohio, the disposal capacity is being threatened by expanding flowback from Marcellus, a major fracking development in Pennsylvania. These limitations in disposal have led to the proposal of shipping brine waste to be deposited in the Gulf Coast (Downing, 2013). Furthermore, waste treatment plants used by fracking developments to treat and reuse wastewater are not equipped to remove contaminants such as chlorides and radio nuclides before the water is returned to rivers (Palliser, 2012).

Cases such as those in Wymoing illustrate the need for further control in the process of hydraulic fracturing if operations are intended to continue. A study by an endocrinologist in the U.S reveals that 75% of the chemicals used to frack disrupt sensory organs and the respiratory gastrointestinal system (Deveau, 2014).Given these statistics, the denial of fracking as a cause of groundwater contamination by companies such as Encana is extremely irresponsible, ultimately prioritizing economic growth over human and environmental health. This blunder is sure to become an issue of devastating proportions as we eventually discover that we cannot in fact drink our dollars.

Sources and further reading:

  • Palliser, J. (2012). Fracking fury.Science Scope, 35(7), 20-24. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/927534588?accountid=13876
  • Deveau, JL. (2014). How to Fight Fracking. Alternatives Journal. Retrieved from: http://search.proquest.com.libproxy1.nus.edu.sg/docview/1508764319?pq-origsite=summon
  • Zeidel, M., O’Neil, L. (2011).US EPA Makes Connection Between Fracking and Water Pollution. The Oil Daily(c) 2011 Energy Intelligence Group.  http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-274587263.html

a timeline of success

In light of the 2015 Scottish ban on fracking developments, introductions to the other members of the slowly growing frack-free society are in order:

  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 2010 
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 2012
  • Broadview Heights, Mansfield, Oberlin and Yellow Springs, Ohio, in 2012 
  • Cantabria, Spain, in 2013
  • Hawai’i County in 2013 
  • Dallas, Texas, in 2013
  • Mora County, New Mexico in 2014
  • Beverly Hills, Santa Cruz, San Benito and Mendocino Counties, California, in 2014
  •  Denton, Texas, in 2014
  • Athens, Ohio, in 2014
  • Boulder, Colorado extends 2012 ban in 2014
  • New York State: first state to ban fracking in December 2014 
  • Fracking is also currently prohibited in GermanyNorthern IrelandFrance and Bulgaria.

http://keeptapwatersafe.org/global-bans-on-fracking/

Scotland and the path towards a fracking free future

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On January 29th, 2015, Scotland became part of a small but mighty international community, joining the list of countries and communities that have banned fracking.  Energy minister Fergus Ewing announced a moratorium on granting planning consents for fracking developments due to concerns surrounding both environmental and public health (fuelfix).

The Scottish Green Party has been campaigning against unconventional gas extraction since 2011, and it appears their voices have been heard. In a briefing article published in December, the party released a simplistic breakdown of the issues surrounding fracking in the UK. Among these are concerns for local pollution and health, as well as the risks of slowing the movement towards a low carbon economy, diverting money from renewable energy technologies. The dense population of the UK amplifies health concerns, while within a broader context of the European Union further complications arise. Due to the fixed price of gas within the EU wide market, the extraction of shale gas will have no effect on reducing gas prices, as is the motivation behind fracking in the U.S. Given the multifaceted nature of the effects of fracking, the economic benefits do not outweigh the harm (Scottish Greens).

In his speech regarding the moratorium, Ewing announced the launching of a full public consultation exploring the impacts on the environment and health. During this time, no fracking plans will be granted consent until technical work has been carried out on planning, environmental regulation and assessment of health impacts (The Herald Scotland).

The implementation of this indefinite ban is undoubtedly a vital step towards a low carbon economy and greater climate stability, however MSPs of the Scottish Green Party are not fully satisfied. Further action is urged by the Scottish Greens to ensure progress is made, including provision of funding for local authorities to develop stringent policies to handle fracking applications. A petition has been circulated calling on the UK Government to halt the granting of fracking licenses across Scotland. In addition, the Scottish Greens are urging the government to speed up planned upgrades to the national grid to allow for the implementation of renewable energy schemes. Alison Johnston, MSP of the Scottish Greens warns the moratorium falls short of a full ban, asserting that the Party will not rest until fully satisfied (Scottish Greens).

Information retrieved from:
http://www.heraldscotland.com/politics/scottish-politics/ewing-announces-fracking-ban-in-scotland.1422459054

http://www.scottishgreens.org.uk/category/news/

http://fuelfix.com/blog/2015/02/02/scotland-adds-to-fracking-bans/

Scottish Greens unconventional oil and gas briefing: http://www.scottishgreens.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2014/12/Unconventional-oil-and-gas-SGP-briefing-Central-Belt.pdf

fracking: the basics

infographic by Hannah Otto, March 2013 from Earthworksaction.org

infographic by Hannah Otto, March 2013 from Earthworksaction.org

Hydraulic fracturing,more commonly referred to as fracking, is a process intended to extend oil reserves in North America through the unconventional extraction of shale oil (Schrag et. al, 2007, pg. 372). Oil shales are extremely tight source rocks that are not permeable enough for oil to be pumped out directly, thus requiring alternative and extreme extraction methods (p. 372). In order to extract shale oil, a high pressure fluid usually consisting of chemicals and sands suspended in water, is injected to create cracks in the deep rock formations (pg. 373). This technique is extremely destructive.

Schrag, D., Field, C., & Thompson, L. (2007). Earth’s Changing Climate. Habitable Planet,352-382. Retrieved September 25, 2014, from http://www.learner.org