Do you live near an oil or gas well? You’re not alone. More than 17 million people now live within a mile of at least one active oil or gas well, and millions are near unconventional wells that practice hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking.
Many of these folks have sent me photos, videos, or stories of their tap water going up in flames with the light of a match, with others wondering if their health problems are related to these wells.
Good News Alert
For those dealing with the impacts, we’ve got some good news. Last week, The Delaware River Basin Commission voted to ban fracking in the Delaware River basin.
The resolution passed with approval from governors of New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey, along with the North Atlantic division engineer of the Army Corps of Engineers.
For more than a decade, a grassroots effort has pushed for this ban, as the practice of hydraulic fracturing poses a threat to the drinking water supply for millions of people.
That’s the power of the people!
The Delaware River is a large interstate waterway on the East Coast, fed by more than 2,000 tributaries and extending more than 300 miles and providing drinking water to more than 13 million people.
What It Means for Water
Fracking poses threats to our water supplies and can also exacerbate water quality concerns.
Research from a 2015 U.S. Geological Survey study found that water use for one well varies but as much as 9.7 million gallons can be used per well, and many wells are fracked two or three times.
The extraction method involves drilling into the earth, sometimes as deep as one or two miles, with a mix of water, sand, and chemical additives that rupture the rock and release the hydrocarbons. The chemical cocktail contains contaminants like arsenic, benzene, cadmium, lead, formaldehyde, chlorine, methane, mercury and more.
A big concern is the saline wastewater, which contains residuals from the fracking fluid. Just like other industries, the biggest challenge is how to dispose of this toxic mess and what to do about spills. Pennsylvania has 1,000 documented cases of water contamination from fracking operations.
Research is ongoing on the impacts of fracking wells to our health. Yale researchers received a $2 million grant from the EPA to investigate the health effects.
You can read an interview with James Saiers, a co-leader of the study and a professor of hydrology at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, here. So far, the scientists have found an association between substances used and reproductive and developmental health problems.
Another recent small pilot study found chemicals like benzene and butylcyclohexane in drinking water and air samples, and breakdown products for chemicals like ethylbenzene, styrene, and toluene in the bodies of children living near fracking wells at levels up to 91 times as high as the average American.
The New Yorker also has a noteworthy story this week on the health impacts of fracking in Pennsylvania.
A five-year study from the EPA confirms that fracking has a harmful impact on drinking water. The website lists several impacts on water including “stress on surface water and ground water supplies from the withdrawal of large volumes of water used in drilling and hydraulic fracturing, contamination of underground sources of drinking water and surface waters resulting from spills, faulty well construction, or by other means, and adverse impacts from discharges into surface waters or from disposal into underground injection wells.”
I would add that spills and accidents can potentially contaminate nearby wells and aquifers too.
Regulation of fracking is also a problem. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 has a small paragraph often referred to as the Halliburton loophole, exempting the practice from the provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act.
I’m not an energy policy expert, and I understand that our economy is tied to oil. I’m not against the practice per se, but we need regulations in place to make sure it’s done safely without polluting water or making people who live near these wells sick.
We all need to take the time to consider the energy we use, how to use it more efficiently, and look at sources of energy that are renewable and have less impact on our environment and health.
While many fracking advocates and executives promised the industry would provide economic growth, a study released in February from the Ohio River Valley Institute, found that the fracking boom in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia did not deliver.
In fact, the analysis determined that about 90 percent of the money created from shale gas extraction actually left the local communities. These areas lost both population and jobs. Perhaps, they forgot to consider that people don’t want to live near it.
Since 2015, more than 250 oil and gas producers have filed for bankruptcy, and the industry as a whole slashed more than 100,000 jobs in 2020.
Don’t believe the hype is what I say. I’m glad there’s some new research to prove it. I see much more hope in building a green economy. How about you?
Erin. I respect your cause, but I believe you’ll have a hard time finding proof that fracking damages drinking water. Yes, there has been rare instances, prior to the fracking industry learning how to operate safely.
Wells being Fracked are thousands of feet deeper than common water wells. The wells are sealed to protect ground water at different depths.
The oil and gas development in our nation has been responsible for creating millions of jobs, and generated billions of dollars into our economy. Every industry had major cutbacks in 2020.