Hydraulic fracturing — or “fracking” — uses a stream of high-pressure water mixed with sand and chemicals brew to break up shale rock deep underground. This releases natural gas, which can then be channeled to wells. The fracturing happens 5,000 to 8,000 feet underground, well below the natural water line. When the fracturing fluid is pumped back to the surface, it can leak suspended chemicals into groundwater. These poisons can then spread to streams and rivers, and even contaminate the soil.
Industry claims that this doesn’t happen, but the advocacy group Pro Publica says that “more than 1,000 other cases of contamination have been documented by courts and state and local governments in Colorado, New Mexico, Alabama, Ohio and Pennsylvania.”
Pennsylvania, in fact, is especially at risk because of its Marcellus Shale formation underlying two-thirds of the state; Dr. Conrad Volz testified in April 2011 before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works that “Marcellus Shale gas extraction wells have between 1.5 to 4 times more violations than their conventional well counterparts per offending well.”
Water contamination from fracking accidents
The used water — or “frack fluid” — that returns from fracturing projects contains suspended materials from the rocks. Experts say the flowback can contain five to ten times as much dissolved salt as seawater, hydrocarbons and volatile organic compounds, heavy metals, arsenic, and radioactive contaminants.
The frack fluid also contains the chemicals that were injected during the mining operation. Officials don’t know what is in this chemical brew, because the precise mixture of the chemicals is consider a trade secret by the industry. Pro Publica says that regulators suspect 300 different chemicals are used, and of those “65 are listed as hazardous by the federal government. Many of the rest are unstudied and unregulated, leaving a gaping hole in the nation’s scientific understanding of how widespread drilling might affect water resources.”
Families have complained that their drinking water supplies have been fouled. In 2008, the Monongahela River — a drinking water supply for more than 300,000 people near Pittsburgh — was contaminated when under-treated wastewater was discharged into the river.
Municipal wastewater treatment plants are not equipped to handle fracking runoff safely, and energy companies are supposed to arrange for proper handling of the waters. In Pennsylvania, there have been more than a dozen incidents where public treatment facilities have accepted natural gas wastewater, treated it improperly, and discharged poisons into surface waters.
This poses serious health dangers. An organization called the Endocrine Disruption Network found that 25 percent of fracking chemicals could cause cancer, and 40 to 50 percent could affect the nervous, immune, and cardiovascular systems. Dr. Jan Hendryx, a Pennsylvania resident, has written that “[o]ur exposure to the chemicals used in the hydrofracturing process will most likely cause a marked increase in cancer and other illnesses. Our environment, drinking water, air quality, property values, roadways, and quality of life are being destroyed at a rapid pace.”
Land damage and contamination from fracking accidents
The fracking process itself poses risks to landowners. Dr. Charles Christen of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health points out that, among other hazards, we can see “severe ground subsidence because of extraction, drilling, and unexpected subterranean conditions, and triggering of small scale earthquakes.” Recent experience in England confirms that earthquakes can follow fracking operations.
When you combine the physical effects of fracking operations with the risks of land contamination from waterways, you can see that the potential economic dangers to Pennsylvania are enormous. An editorial in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reminds us that the state receives $5.4 billion in revenue a year from hunting, fishing and wildlife-related recreation, but now “Pennsylvania’s historic brook trout waters and rich forest lands are at risk from the effects of drilling.” Agriculture, too, is another key Pennsylvania industry threatened by fracking, as the risk of contamination spreads to both crops and grazing land.
There is a sense that Pennsylvanians are losing control of their property and their destiny. Perhaps that feeling was best summed up by Pennsylvania resident Rebecca Roter, who recently wrote: “What Oil and Gas is doing in PA, WY, CO, WV, they have done for decades in third world countries… [W]e are the new native americans to be cleared from the land; drill rig workers have told us we are in the way. Seismic testing companies have started working on land where no gas leases were signed and when confronted they said we are oil and gas and we will do what we want.”
What can I do?
As a citizen, you can take action for the long-term good. Campaign for, and vote for, elected officials who will demand accountability from the energy industry. Urge your legislators in Washington to support the proposed Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals (FRAC) Act. These actions will force lasting improvements in Pennsylvania and the United States.
Sometimes, though, you cannot afford to wait for slow improvements through the political process. If you are injured, you need to respond immediately. Has fracking damaged your health or that of your family? Has it contaminated your water or air, or infringed on your land ownership rights? Have you suffered an accident at a fracking work site? If any of these is true, you need to consult a fracking injury law firm.
Ostroff Injury Law stands ready to help. Call our personal injury attorneys at (855)FRACKLAW or contact us online for a free consultation. We are Pennsylvania’s Premier Frackcident Law Firm and we are committed to holding the large energy and fracking companies responsible for the harm they have caused to you or members of your family.