Murky water is flammable and igniting at the tap; toxic air is stripping people of their senses; animals are dropping dead across polluted streams and natural wonders are being torn down by heavy machinery. Although perhaps rightfully assumed, this is not an apocalyptic premonition. It is simply the reality of countless rural community residents across the nation as they experience the toxic backlash of domestic drilling for natural gases.
As efforts to decrease national dependence on foreign oil have grown, U.S. officials have opened the ground for unprecedented extractions of America’s wealth in underground shale through a process called hydraulic fracturing.
Hydraulic fracturing, also referred to as “fracking,” is a method of natural gas extraction that taps shale deposits deep underground by injecting drilled wells, which can run up to 8,000 feet deep, with an agglomeration of water, sand and chemicals under high pressure. This pressure subsequently fractures the shale and opens sizeable fissures that allow the gas to flow out.
The oil and gas industry claims approximately 99.5 percent of the fluids utilized during a standard fracking process are composed of water and sand. Additionally, many officials have maintained the chemical compounds used to expedite this process are either minute or inconsequential.
However, through independent investigations and consultations with an impressive team of environmental experts, Josh Fox contests these industry “facts” as conscious fabrications in his Oscar-nominated documentary, “Gasland.” He claims that, contrary to industry consensus, researchers suspect 65 of the chemicals known to be used in the fracking process are hazardous to human health.
Through the collection of various samples, researchers have compiled a disconcerting list of “ingredients” that includes volatile organic compounds such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene. Even more disconcerting is the volume of 80 to 300 tons of chemicals used for a single frack. This exorbitance is compounded by the amount of water necessary to create the average fluid – 2 million gallons transported in as many as 100 water haulers per frack – and the constant release of toxic gasses into the air through the use of evaporation sprayers.
A major source of conflict in the ever-present debate between industry leaders and environmental researchers is the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which was signed into law by former President George W. Bush. Often referred to as the “Halliburton loophole,” – a name assumed from reports of former Halliburton CEO and Vice President Dick Cheney’s instrumental influence in its passage – this act works to exempt fluids used in natural gas extraction from certain environmental laws, such as the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Safe Drinking Water Act is meant to establish “minimum standards for state programs to protect underground sources of drinking water from endangerment by underground injection of fluids.” However, among other offenses, industry drilling sites have already severely polluted public water supplies with little to no repercussion. Thanks to the “Halliburton loophole,” it seems the integrity of this law has been officially compromised.
Now, elements comprising the chemical cocktail used in any fracking process are considered proprietary and, like the components of any Coca-Cola or Apple product, are heavily guarded. This gives industry officials the opportunity they need to evade all admittance to their social and environmental wrongdoings.
Detected fracking chemicals have already been identified with and correlated to several human health defects including testicular toxicity, malformation of the embryo, bone marrow depression and hemolysis. However, when probed about the pollution of the well water available to affected individuals, their answers often return as a simple and seemingly permissible, “no comment.”
Although the destructive nature of hydraulic fracturing is undeniable, powerful government leaders seem to be turning a blind eye to the true nature of this profit-pumping system. For this reason, affected citizens are now forced to become their own advocates and collectively tell the oil industry, “No fracking way.”