4 Scary New Finds About Fracking This Week

This article was published in partnership with GlobalPossibilities.org.

Faculty and staff at the Community College of Philadelphia want their institution to “severe all ties to the Marcellus Shale Coalition and the gas fracking industry.” Their recently passed resolution came after the college accepted $15,000 from industry group Marcellus Shale Coalition and then decided to open an “Energy Training Center.” The Philadelphia Inquirer explained that, “The college aims to prepare students to work for local companies doing Marcellus-related work.” The resolution from faculty and staff instead calls on the college “to expand its initiatives and offerings in clean, green energy and environmental career fields,” EcoWatch reports.

The pushback is a welcome development because it’s not often that fracking is followed by much good news. Here’s a look at some other headlines that fracking grabbed this week.

1. What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You

By now you likely know that most states (and the federal government) don’t require companies that frack oil and gas wells to disclose the multitude of chemicals in the toxic slurry that gets pumped underground. This is problematic for so many reasons, and here is just the latest. Ben Elgin, Benjamin Haas and Phil Kuntz reported for Bloomberg that, “A subsidiary of Nabors Industries Ltd. (NBR) pumped a mixture of chemicals identified only as ‘EXP- F0173-11’ into a half-dozen oil wells in rural Karnes County, Texas, in July.”

The problem?

Few people outside Nabors, the largest onshore drilling contractor by revenue, know exactly what’s in that blend. This much is clear: One ingredient, an unidentified solvent, can cause damage to the kidney and liver, according to safety information about the product that Michigan state regulators have on file.

Here’s the even more troubling part of this story: Texas does have a law that requires drillers to disclose what’s in their frack fluid — except Nabors is exempt because the company says it’s a “trade secret.” I guess they don't want other companies finding out the quickest way to cause people organ damage. And of course, they aren’t the only ones. “Drilling companies in Texas, the biggest oil-and-natural gas producing state, claimed similar exemptions about 19,000 times this year through August, according to their chemical-disclosure reports,” the story says. 

2. Accident Prone

One of the main complaints you’ll get from people living near fracking operations is truck traffic, whether it’s North Dakota or Pennsylvania or any other gasland state. People have seen their rural roads and quality of life decimated by thousands of daily truck trips. They worry about diesel emissions, relentless dust on dirt roads, accidents and spills -- and they have every reason to be concerned. Here’s a little sampling of what people in West Virginia experienced last weekend. On Saturday Frank Williams’ son and son’s cousin were playing in their yard when a tanker truck full of fracking lubricant lost its brakes, crashed through a guardrail and trees, and ended up a creek across the street. 

“Williams said when he looked up to see what the commotion was, the truck's rear end was in the air,” the Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register reported. “The truck then toppled over, coming to rest on its side, the fracking fluid leaking into the creek. Firefighters placed booms and oil-absorbing pads in the water to soak up the lubricant that appeared thick and black.” Luckily, the kids were unhurt and the driver was treated and released from the hospital. The creek, well, who knows? 

The following night in New Milton, WV local resident Diane Pitcock reported that, “A tanker truck owned by US Well Services ran off the road and plunged into Meathouse Fork Creek...Doddridge County Emergency Services was called to the scene to suction diesel fuel from Meathouse Fork Creek. State Police took an accident report and it seems that after these two local emergency responders visited the site, the contractors for Antero took over and began damage control and clean up.”

The driver was unhurt but residents were concerned about what the tanker was carrying and if any of it ended up in the creek. Pitcock wrote

While many of the workers on site told curious onlookers that the contents of the tanker could not be disclosed, one resident reported that a worker indicated to them that the tanker was hauling “Friction Reducer” fluid. ...

You can go on the Halliburton or Schlumberger websites and read about some … yes only some, of the chemicals that are used to slick up those well casings. Products such as Dynadrill, CLS, and caustic soda additives, DESCO, and plastic drill beads are just a few of the toxic contaminants that the industry admits to on their website. The rest are “proprietary” as was told to residents who posed the questions while gazing at the tanker lying on its side in our Meathouse Fork tributary.

This is just another example of why “propriety” and “trade secret” are serious threats to public health, and why these massive industrial operations pose real dangers to rural residents. The only ones besides drillers likely to benefit from all of this would law firms like this one which posted a story last year documenting seven fracking-related truck accidents in 12 days in the local area.

3. Shaky Ground

More damning evidence came forward this week linking fracking to earthquakes. Joe Romm at Climate Progress wrote about two new reports being presented at the American Geophysical Union (“Present Triggered Seismicity Sequence in the Raton Basin of Southern Colorado/Northern New Mexico” and “Fluid injection triggering of 2011 earthquake sequence in Oklahoma”). As Romm writes, while fracking wells can cause earthquakes, research suggests that most of the earthquakes scientists are now attributing to fracking are the result of taking the brine waste after a well has been fracked and getting rid of it by injecting it underground. (Injection wells are problematic for other reasons besides earthquakes, as well.)   

The abstract from the New Mexico/Colorado study said that their research, “led us to conclude that the majority, if not all of the earthquakes since August 2001 have been triggered by the deep injection of wastewater related to the production of natural gas from the coal-bed methane field here.” And the Oklahoma paper found there could be “multi-year lags between the commencement of fluid injection and triggered earthquakes.” 

4. Breathing Uneasy

Here’s a reason why we need more detailed health studies about how drilling sites can affect us and our environment. Lisa Song at InsideClimate News wrote about a new study (peer-reviewed in the journal Human and Ecological Risk Assessment) that found a group of chemicals — non-methane hydrocarbons (NMHCs) — in the air near drilling sites. She writes, “more than 50 NMHCs were found near gas wells in rural Colorado, including 35 that affect the brain and nervous system. Some were detected at levels high enough to potentially harm children who are exposed to them before birth. The authors say the source of the chemicals is likely a mix of the raw gas that is vented from the wells and emissions from industrial equipment used during the gas production process.”

While the results of this study are intriguing and scary, Song says the “study doesn't definitively link the gas fields to the air pollutant” but perhaps it will help bring some more attention to the risks of air pollution from drilling and the need for more research to be done. New York is currently embarking on a health impact assessment of fracking, and a watchdog group of health professionals is working to make sure it’s actually a comprehensive study. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Similar studies are needed all over the country, and as the NMHC study found, health problems can result during any period of the operation, not just while the well is being fracked.


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