The boon on America's natural gas has been touted by both political parties during the recent election cycle, pointing to increased production and lower costs. As is often the case, where money can be made and political points won, the facts can become a secondary concern. This is certainly the case with hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" as it is infamously known.
Quick review of fracking
The process known as fracking involves the injection of fluids at a very high pressure, deep below the earth. This fluid causes cracks and fractures among the shale and rock, which in turn releases trapped oils and gases. The fracking fluid is what environmentalists and health officials are pointing out as a potential or in some cases, confirmed toxic mess. This fluid is mainly water, though about 2 percent of that water consists of around 630 different chemicals, some of which are known carcinogens. In a few cases, the fracking fluid has even tested positive for fatal levels radioactivity.
This fracking process will drive the wells right through underground aquifers, the source of most well water in the rural areas where fracking is occurring. Thus, the obvious concern is that this toxic mess of chemicals will work its way back up into this precious water source.
Poisoning our way to cheaper energy
Recently, over 100 people were surveyed as part of the Oil and Gas Accountability Project at Earthworks, and the findings were disturbing. Families described how coming into contact with tap water, in their own home, would cause projectile vomiting and skin irritations. They also described how family pets mysteriously died after coming into contact with the same contaminated water. There were also other indications of widespread health concerns such as respiratory, sinus and mood ailments.
Nadia Steinzor, of Earthworks, said during a recent press call "We have a serious timing problem," she then went on to explain that "natural gas development is accelerating rapidly, but knowledge about its impacts on the environment and people is coming much slower."
The Earthworks report was able to confirm that contaminates commonly associated with oil and natural gas production were present in the air and water in communities where fracking is occurring. It also concluded that lack of regulatory control and limited research is putting the public's health at risk.
Inaction is simply not acceptable
There are hundreds of thousands of active natural gas and oil wells that are not inspected by government entities, according to a recent Huffington Post article. It also pointed out that fines and punishment for violations are far too weak for the industry to change their ways.
Coupling industry needs for record profits with limited research and oversight brings a dangerous combination that is putting families at risk.
The natural gas industry denies that health risks exist with fracking wells and chalk the reports up to anecdotal complaints at best. On the other side, environmentalists stand firm, stating that conclusive evidence exists, while pointing at report after report of health impacts. The best way to solve the impasse is to simply conduct third-party, unbiased research to put the issue to rest. Until that occurs, the battle for health and energy will continue to rage.
Image credit: ragesoss, courtesy flickr