Despite the secrecy of the fracking industry and the protections afforded by some states there is mounting evidence that hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” contaminates drinking water. Fracking is a fossil fuel extraction process that consists of injecting chemicals deep underground to break up shale formations.Conservative estimates indicate that there have been at least 260 documented examples of wells contamination due to fracking in Pennsylvania alone. As reported in Scientific American, a 2013 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA found widespread examples of methane laced drinking water In Pennsylvania. The researchers showed that the closer you are to a fracking site the more likely that your well will be contaminated.
According to an Environment America Fracking report
water contamination is one of the most environmentally destructive
corollaries of this process. “People living or working nearby can be
exposed to these chemicals if they enter drinking water after a spill or
if they become airborne.”
“For the past decade, fracking has been a nightmare for our drinking water, our open spaces, and our climate,” Rachel Richardson, a co-author of the paper from Environment America, told ThinkProgress.
There have been a number of high profile frack-water related problems. Here are a few examples
“Two families in Pennsylvania were awarded more than $4 million in March — ending a seven-year legal battle against a fracking company they said contaminated local water sources. Last summer, a Texas man was severely burned after methane, allegedly from nearby fracking, caused an explosion in his well shed. Last summer, scientists in Texas found elevated levels of cancer-causing chemicals in the drinking water in one of the state’s major fracking regions.”
Fracking also wastes vast quantities of water. According to Environment America, at least 239 billion gallons of water have been used in fracking since 2005. These fracking operations are reducing the availability of water and driving up the price. This is particularly pronounced in drought stricken areas of the country. In Colorado the price of water went up 100 times the usual rate. The competition for scarce water resources is a serious issue for agriculture.
One of the major problems associated with studying fracking is the fact that many of states do release data. This includes some of the states that do the most fracking (eg Texas and North Dakota). Of the states that do release information it was found that 14 billion gallons of wastewater was produced by fracking in 2014.
In February Triple Pundit covered the fracking water contamination connection. A 2015 a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) draft report linked fracking to water contamination concluded that the absence of data and other “limiting factors” made research difficult. A similar conclusion was reached in a recent Stanford fracking report that was presented at the 2016 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. This study sought to explore how natural gas from the drilling sites contaminate local water supplies. However, it should be noted that the report’s lead author, Stanford professor Rob Jackson, has ties to the natural gas industry.
Nonetheless Jackson cites a case in Parker County, Texas, where the drillers did not include a cement liner all the way down the well and the result was that gases contaminated the drinking-water supply. Jackson singled out the dangers of contamination of drinking water from more than 2,600 shallow wells (ie wells that are less than 3,000 feet).
“We found a surprising number of places where companies are fracking directly into shallow freshwater aquifers,” he says. “In no other industry would you be allowed to inject chemicals into a source of drinking-quality water.”
After an exhaustive study New York state banned fracking in 2015. Last June, TriplePundit referenced studies which showed that fracking operations impact on water quality in Texas, and another associating lower birth-weight with mothers living near gas wells in Pennsylvania. Rolling Stone magazine followed up on an earlier Newsweek report on anecdotal evidence of infant mortality linked to fracking in Utah. Another fracking report linked a significant increase in hospitalizations to the “meteoric” rise in natural gas wells in Pennsylvania.
Determining the exact composition of the chemical cocktail used in fracking has been very elusive. However we are getting a better idea of what can be found in this toxic soup. There are over 700 chemicals used in fracking fluids which includes endocrine-disrupting chemicals, carcinogens and neurotoxins. This includes chemicals like formaldehyde, benzene and hydrochloric acid.
A 2014 study by scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that around ten percent of chemicals used in fracking brine are toxic to humans or aquatic life. In addition to these poisonous substances, fracking can also bring naturally occurring radioactive materials to the surface.
As reported by the LA Times, a 2013 study of water collected from fracking sites in Colorado finds substances that have been linked to infertility, birth defects and cancer. They found endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), which can affect human sex hormones. Of than 700 chemicals that could be used in the fracking process and estimated that about 100 are known or suspected EDCs.
Exposure to EDCs has serious health implications for fetuses, babies and young children. The World Health Organization issued a report which indicates that endocrine-related illnesses were on the rise worldwide.
The study, published in the journal Endocrinology, also found elevated levels of the hormone-disrupting chemicals in the Colorado River.
“With fracking on the rise, populations may face greater health risks from increased endocrine-disrupting chemical exposure,” said senior author Susan Nagel, who investigates the health effects of estrogen at the University of Missouri School of Medicine.
Out of 39 water samples collected at five drilling sites, 89 percent showed estrogenic properties, 41perent were anti-estrogenic, 12 percent were androgenic and 46 percent were anti-androgenic..
“The human endocrine system and that of wildlife is guided by very small fluctuations of hormones,” said Dr. Meg Schwarzman, associate director of the Berkeley Center for Green Chemistry at UC Berkeley. “Even low levels of anti-estrogenic or anti-androgenic activity could potentially alter development in ways that are meaningful.”
Secrecy in the fracking industry may be coming to an end. A March 2014 ruling by the Wyoming Supreme Court ordered companies engaged in fracking to reveal the concoction of chemicals they use. However, the fracking industry has Republican allies in legislatures across the country. At the end of May 2016 the GOP in North Carolina pushed a bill that would jail anyone for disclosing the chemicals found in fracking fluid.
Fracking: A Tragic Waste of Water Resources
Infographic – How Much Water Does Fracking Consume
Fracking Operations Shut Down to Protect Drinking Water in California
Jurisdictions Across the US are Saying “No” to Fracking
The Myth that Fracked Gas is a Bridge Fuel
Natural Gas Versus Renewable Energy
Fracking and Earthquakes go Together like Sodom and Gomorrah
Obama Begins to Reign-in Methane Emissions from Fracking
Leaking Methane Associated with Fracking
The Porter Ranch Methane Leak Could be a Catalyst for Change