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3 Ways Laws Are Stacked to Favor Fracking Companies -- And How We Can Change That

The U.S. legal system is strongly biased in favor of economic growth, even if it harms human health and the environment.
 
 
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A new report offers compelling evidence that fracking for natural gas is killing domestic animals like horses, cattle, goats, sheep. The dead animals provide a strong warning that fracking can harm humans -- something the fracking industry has consistently denied.

"Fracking" is short for " hydraulic fracturing" -- a well-drilling process that pumps water, sand and toxic chemicals a mile or so below ground to release natural gas trapped in rocks. If all goes well, the deep rocks shatter, releasing gas, which is piped directly to the surface where it becomes part of the nation's energy supply or is exported. If all doesn't go so well, some of the fracked gas and toxic chemicals start moving around through cracks and fissures below ground, where they sometimes mix with underground water supplies, perhaps ruining a valuable aquifer forever.

The new report, "Impacts of Gas Drilling on Human and Animal Health," by Michelle Bamberger and Robert Oswald appeared in New Solutions (Jan. 2012). Bamberger is a practicing veterinarian and Oswald a professor of pharmacology in the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine. The two spent a year evaluating all available fracking-related reports on sick or dying animals. Secrecy surrounds the fracking industry, but a few "natural experiments" have provided powerful evidence that fracking can harm animals. On one farm, 60 cows were pastured near a creek where fracking fluids had reportedly been dumped; another 36 cattle were pastured without access to the creek. Of the 60 cows, 21 died and 16 more failed to produce calves the following spring. Among the 36 not exposed, health problems were absent.

A second natural experiment occurred on another farm where 140 cows were exposed to fracking wastewater after an impoundment liner failed. Of the 140 exposed cows, about 70 died and there was a high incidence of stillborn and stunted calves. Some 60 other cows from the same herd were held in a separate pasture free from toxicants. None of them developed any health or reproductive problems.

In the Energy Policy Act of 2005, Congress gave fracking a green light by exempting it from the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act. At the bidding of the oil and gas industry, Congress basically said, "We want this gas out of the ground by any means necessary." Now, six years later, some 450,000 fracking wells have been drilled in 31 states. Already 30 percent of all U.S. natural gas comes from fracking. The practice started in the west -- Colorado, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Texas, Wyoming. Then it went south -- Arkansas, Alabama, Louisiana. Now it's moving east to Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. If the fracking industry continues to have its way, tens of thousands more fracking wells will be drilled and billions of gallons of water mixed with industrial poisons will be pumped underground.

If you've seen the Oscar-nominated documentary film Gasland, you'll never forget those flames shooting out of Marsha Mendenhall's kitchen faucet in Weld County, Colorado. Or the Fox-31 News report on KDVR-TV (Denver) showing flames shooting from a faucet inside the home of Jesse and Amee Ellsworth in Fort Lupton, Colo. -- accompanied by gas frackers offering straight-faced denials that they've ever seen any proof that fracking has contaminated water.

That's the root of the problem. The fracking industry claims there's no scientific proof (only "anecdotal evidence") that their technology has ever caused "unreasonable" harm, and until such proof exists, they have a legal right to frack away. To ordinary people, flaming faucets and dead animals make it obvious that fracking can contaminate water with chemicals that can kill. Indeed, in December, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a draft report concluding that fracking has contaminated underground drinking water supplies in Wyoming. It looks like an open-and-shut case, but it's not because of the way our laws work.

 
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