The President of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Francis Beinecke, recently visited areas in western Pennsylvania where ‘fracking’ operations are occurring, and spoke with local residents about the impacts of these projects in their communities. My cousin — a medical professional without any affiliation with environmental organizations like Ms. Beinecke’s — also spent time in these same areas recently, with family.
Both their stories convey a picture of dangerous and secretive industrialization in small-town America that most local residents fear and resent. And with good reason:
“In the past five years alone, ExxonMobil, Shell, and other energy companies have drilled more than 200,000 new wells across the United States,” said Beinecke.
That’s over 100 new wells… per day.
“…millions of gallons of wastewater laced with carcinogens are dumped in open-air reservoirs that can leak and contaminate drinking water. Some people living nearby say they suffer from migraines, dizziness, nausea, asthma, burning eyes, and fainting.”
Fracking involves the use of some of the most toxic and carcinogenic chemicals and pollutants used in any industry: benzene, toluene, methane, and many more. One highly sourced report, called “The Endorcrine Disruptor Exchange,” cited over 300 chemicals used in fracking, “many of which can cause cancer.” Yet — thanks to a waiver granted by the Bush administration known as the “Halliburton Loophole” — fracking is exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act and other bedrock environmental measures.
As Ms. Beinkecke describes: “Only half the states where fracking occurs have even taken the simple step of requiring companies to disclose the chemicals they use in fracking fluid. And in eight of those states, companies can withhold any information they decide is confidential.” Thus, the powerful natural gas industry operates freely, despite the immense human health risks associated with the process.
And while gas industry executives insist — as did their predecessors in the tobacco and other industries in years past — that their industry is safe, the facts (like the chemicals they use) leak out eventually:
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has confirmed methane from improperly constructed gas wells has contaminated people’s drinking water — and created a risk of fire or explosion in people’s homes and water wells. Duke University scientists recently confirmed “methane contamination in drinking water” in New York and Pennsylvania directly associated with nearby fracked wells. Officials in Wyoming have confirmed Benzene near fracked sites in Wyoming at levels far exceeding national safety standards. The list could go on much longer than the scope of this blog post. (See sources, below).
“Every single person we spoke with,” said Beinecke, “had stories of contaminated water and air.”
My cousin — whose name I am withholding because his family lives close to the operations in Pennsylvania — also observed what he described as an attempt to hide the effects of the process from the residents. “Some weird things (are) going on in the town of Wellsboro… every so often a contingent of security people show up in town at the main intersection for 12-24 hours and then disappear. The little quaint town now has tanker trucks streaming through 24/7. Some of the trucks have labels that say “fresh water” or “residual water,” with some of the trucks we saw with strips of duct tape partially covering the words “residual water.” (Waste water from fracking is “…so poisonous, when a gas company that legally doused a patch of West Virginia forest with salty wastewater from a drilling operation, it killed ground vegetation within days and more than half the trees within two years,” according to a report issued by Greenpeace USA.
“The NRDC is committed to changing this,” said Beinecke. “We are pushing for strong national safeguards for fracking, and helping empower local communities to restrict or ban dangerous fracking as they so choose. We want to ensure that reckless fracking operations no longer endanger people’s health and well being.”
Don Lieber's writing and research has been published by the United Nations, The Associated Press, The International Campaign to Ban Landmines, The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, E-The Environmental Magazine and others. He contributes regularly to PlanetSave.com.