Good old hydrofracking. You know about it right? It’s the method to produce natural gas by fracturing rock formations with millions of gallons of water and toxic chemicals. It’s been contaminating groundwater in the Western US for many years and now it is being pursued with a vengeance in the East, particularity with respect to the Marcellus Shale formation that extends across Pennsylvania and New York.
Everyone in the know has warned us for years that hydrofracking was highly dangerous to sources of groundwater used for human consumption. But only now are we being told how much worse is that contamination of our water supplies. So bad it will make you ill after you read this investigative report from the NY Times:
With hydrofracking, a well can produce over a million gallons of wastewater that is often laced with highly corrosive salts, carcinogens like benzene and radioactive elements like radium, all of which can occur naturally thousands of feet underground. Other carcinogenic materials can be added to the wastewater by the chemicals used in the hydrofracking itself.
While the existence of the toxic wastes has been reported, thousands of internal documents obtained by The New York Times from the Environmental Protection Agency, state regulators and drillers show that the dangers to the environment and health are greater than previously understood.
The documents reveal that the wastewater, which is sometimes hauled to sewage plants not designed to treat it and then discharged into rivers that supply drinking water, contains radioactivity at levels higher than previously known, and far higher than the level that federal regulators say is safe for these treatment plants to handle.
In short, if your source of drinking water is a water plant that receives treated waste water from hydrofracking operations, your health and the health of your children and your neighbors and everyone else you know is at serious risk, a risk far greater than previously acknowledged by the oil and gas industry and federal regulators.
The Industry has known of these problems for many years, as has the EPA, as the documents shown to the NY Times reporters demonstrate. Yet neither the Industry nor the EPA has acted on those reports. Instead, both have turned a blind eye to the fact that waste water from hydrofracking is hazardous to your health. Indeed, since 2006, beginning with the Bush administration, the EPA told hydrofracking operators in Pennsaylvania that they did not need to test the the waste water that was released for radioactivity.
Astonishing, but true. Your government, politicians and the Oil and Gas Industry collaborated in a conspiracy of silence regarding the safety of using hydrofracking techniques to produce natural gas. As one alarmed expert stated:
“We’re burning the furniture to heat the house,” said John H. Quigley, who left last month as secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. “In shifting away from coal and toward natural gas, we’re trying for cleaner air, but we’re producing massive amounts of toxic wastewater with salts and naturally occurring radioactive materials, and it’s not clear we have a plan for properly handling this waste.”
The risks are particularly severe in Pennsylvania, which has seen a sharp increase in drilling, with roughly 71,000 active gas wells, up from about 36,000 in 2000. The level of radioactivity in the wastewater has sometimes been hundreds or even thousands of times the maximum allowed by the federal standard for drinking water.
And as the Times report notes, waste water treatment plants that receive this tainted water are not capable of removing such high levels of toxic radioactive elements. Waste treatment plant operators openly admit that they cannot remove enough of these radioactive elements to meet the federal standards before the treated water is dumped into reservoirs, rivers and streams which provide the primary sources of drinking water for millions of people across the country. Water that men, women, children and even infants are drinking as we speak. In Pennsylvania alone:
¶More than 1.3 billion gallons of wastewater was produced by Pennsylvania wells over the past three years, far more than has been previously disclosed. Most of this water — enough to cover Manhattan in three inches — was sent to treatment plants not equipped to remove many of the toxic materials in drilling waste.
¶At least 12 sewage treatment plants in three states accepted gas industry wastewater and discharged waste that was only partly treated into rivers, lakes and streams.
¶Of more than 179 wells producing wastewater with high levels of radiation, at least 116 reported levels of radium or other radioactive materials 100 times as high as the levels set by federal drinking-water standards. At least 15 wells produced wastewater carrying more than 1,000 times the amount of radioactive elements considered acceptable.
At least 32 states permit the use of hydrofracking to extract natural gas. The toxicity of groundwater found in those states is alarming.
Fracking, as the practice is commonly called, is a means of extracting natural gas by pressure-drilling a mix of water, sand and chemicals more than a mile vertically and horizontally into the earth. The sand and chemicals break up the dense rock to release methane, the compound comprising natural gas, which is pumped back up along with the fracking liquid, now infused not only with the chemical additives but heavy metals and radioactive material as well. The problem is that these materials are leaching into our water supplies, sickening people, vegetation and animals.
And Big Oil is pressuring more and more states to allow the process to be employed, including my state of New York. Greed apparently knows no moral limits. The industry and government officials know the dangers posed to our nation’s water supplies, yet in their eagerness to turn a buck (or allow the oil and gas companies to buy key political figures with campaign contributions) they are putting the lives of millions of people at risk.
In Pennsylvania, these treatment plants discharged waste into some of the state’s major river basins. Greater amounts of the wastewater went to the Monongahela River, which provides drinking water to more than 800,000 people in the western part of the state, including Pittsburgh, and to the Susquehanna River, which feeds into Chesapeake Bay and provides drinking water to more than six million people, including some in Harrisburg and Baltimore.
Lower amounts have been discharged into the Delaware River, which provides drinking water for more than 15 million people in Philadelphia and eastern Pennsylvania. […]
“Hydrofracking impacts associated with health problems as well as widespread air and water contamination have been reported in at least a dozen states,” said Walter Hang, president of Toxics Targeting, a business in Ithaca, N.Y., that compiles data on gas drilling. […]
There were more than 493,000 active natural-gas wells in the United States in 2009, almost double the number in 1990. Around 90 percent have used hydrofracking to get more gas flowing, according to the drilling industry.
Gas has seeped into underground drinking-water supplies in at least five states, including Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and West Virginia, and residents blamed natural-gas drilling.
Aside from the obvious risk of radiation poisoning, water contaminated with radioactive elements is highly carcinogenic. And there is no tax or cost imposed on Big Oil to prevent or re-mediate the problems caused by hydrofracking or pay for the future medical costs of people who are now unwittingly drinking this toxic brew because the hands of the EPA and local state environmental agencies have been tied by bought and paid for politicians who support hydrofracking. And groundwater contamination is not the only concern. Respiratory illness such as asthma related to air polution from hydrofracking is also a great problem for people who live near these wells:
In Texas, which now has about 93,000 natural-gas wells, up from around 58,000 a dozen years ago, a hospital system in six counties with some of the heaviest drilling said in 2010 that it found a 25 percent asthma rate for young children, more than three times the state rate of about 7 percent.
The desire to make profits is amoral at best. However, deliberately covering up the dangers to the health and lives of million of Americans in order to generate profits is immoral, and would, in any just society, be prosecuted as a crime.
That crime would be attempted premeditated murder. These industry executives know that statistically a certain percentage of people who drink this contaminated water will contract diseases, including cancer, that will kill them. Yet they intentionally persist in pushing the use of fracking. Yet no one will prosecute them when people start to die from cancers and other illnesses related to the toxic waste products of hydrofracking.
Instead, they will likely be given government subsidies and tax breaks to do ever more damage and create ever more harm to the people of the United States.