Ninety-two percent of the 278 known chemicals used to produce natural gas have adverse health effects including endocrine disruption, neurological disorders and cancer. Chemical information is limited because the industry claims formulas are trade secrets. If, like most Americans, you believe your water, air and soil are protected from these chemicals by federal environmental statutes, you are dead wrong. Loopholes in our federal environmental laws allow the oil and gas industry to endanger public health and safety and risk vital natural resources.
Fueled by technological advances, a frenzied expansion in natural gas drilling has exploded into 34 American states. Once the burden of rural areas, it now encroaches into heavily populated cities turning neighborhoods into industrial zones.
They’re calling natural gas a bridge fuel, an alternative fuel, the “clean” energy. Enough PR money burnishes a dirty fossil fuel into an environmentally friendly magic bridge to lead us far from our energy crisis. In truth, the production process that endangers public health and safety, depletes scarce water supplies, and generates colossal amounts of toxic waste cancels out the slightly cleaner burn.
It’s a heavy toll to cross this bridge. The question becomes: who pays?
Before crossing this magic bridge, we must guarantee that they “Do it Right.” The Federal Energy Policy Act of 2005 essentially removed all federal oversight and regulation of one part of natural gas production called hydraulic fracturing. It also opened up another loophole for stormwater runoff under the Clean Water Act. Drilling Down, written by Amy Mall (blog), Natural Resources Defense Council, lists these and other industry loopholes:
Decades of dealmaking by the industry, Congress, and regulatory offices have resulted in exemptions for the oil and gas industry from protections in the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA, also known as the Superfund law), the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and the Safe Drinking Water Act. In addition, the oil and gas industry is not covered by public right-to-know provisions under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act, meaning that companies can withhold information needed to make informed decisions about protecting the environment and human health.
Tough regulations won’t be enough for an industry plagued with graft, patronage and deeply rooted corruption. We must guarantee enforcement. Every stage of natural gas production pollutes and at every stage toxic chemicals are used.
As natural gas production rapidly increases across the U.S., its associated pollution has reached the stage where it is contaminating essential life support systems – water, air, and soil – and causing harm to the health of humans, wildlife, domestic animals, and vegetation.
The following concerns the essential element water.
In the dark of night 4 or 5 years ago, 4th grade science helped crystallize a thought lingering in the fog of my 50 year old brain: Natural gas drilling is permanently altering our hydrological cycle. Using a process called hydraulic fracturing or fracking, 1 to 5 million gallons of potable water, mixed with chemicals and sand are pumped under pressure down the drilling hole to release the gas trapped deep in the earth. During its lifetime, a well may be refracked as many as 18 times. The water that returns—30 to 70%–is called flowback and can contain the drilling chemicals plus hydrocarbons from the formation and naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM).
This toxic witch’s brew requires disposal, usually into an injection/disposal well where it is injected deep into the earth under a “containment” barrier—a permanent withdrawal from our overall water budget.
People laughed at me or dismissed my theory—easily intimidated, I shut up. I read Principles of Hydrogeology by Dr. Paul F. Hudak and contacted him with my question. Below is his reply:
Disposing used water into deep injection wells essentially removes it from the active hydrologic cycle. Conceivably, it could return to the active cycle at some very distant point in the future (speaking in geologic terms, well beyond human time frames.) This presumes no leakage through the well casing or nearby abandoned and unplugged wells, which could facilitate upward migration.
Dr. Paul F. Hudak
Department of Geography
University of North Texas
I believe this practice plays a big role in driving our perpetual drought.
Josh Fox traveled across the country filming his upcoming documentary, Water Under Attack. In the trailer to his documentary, Fox estimates that the recent natural gas drilling expansion has wasted over 40 Trillion gallons of potable water. That figure only considers the initial fracking. Since water usage is largely self reported by the industry, no one knows the true figure. (Please donate to Josh Fox’s monumentally important work!)
The water used to produce natural gas is not sustainable. Water recycling technology is available but only a tiny fraction of drilling water is recycled.
I think this is a major public health issue that needs to be addressed before we issue any more permits to drill any more wells.
~Dr. Theo Colborn, The Endocrine Disruption Exchange
The oil and gas industry has exemptions from the Clean Water Act which protects our waterways including rivers, streams, lakes and wetlands and the Safe Drinking Water Act which protects public supplies of drinking water. EPA Chief Lisa Jackson admits the current regulations restrict the EPA’s ability to protect groundwater and said the issue “was well worth looking into.”
Many of the chemicals used to produce natural gas qualify as hazardous materials and carcinogens. There are hundreds of cases of contaminated drinking water, including some linked to hydraulic fracturing. The Halliburton Loophole protects industry from federal requirement to disclose the chemicals used, and without disclosure we can’t get proof. This is the same tactic used by the tobacco industry for decades while they continued to claim no proof that smoking causes cancer.
Erin Brockovich Does Midland, Texas
Over 40 homes near an area where oil field waste was dumped in Midland have water contaminated with high levels of chromium-6, the same substance found in Hinkley, California by Erin Brockovich. Schlumberger, an oil and gas industry hydraulic fracture giant, has a plant next to the affected Midland neighborhood.
In a statement, Schlumberger said they never use chromium, but chromium is regularly found in waste pits that hold frack flowback.
The Brockovich investigators believe they have evidence to back up their claim that Schlumberger is to blame. (VIDEO)
“We want full disclosure.
And once the public hears the story, and they’ll say: well why aren’t we out there monitoring?
We can’t monitor until we know what they’re using. There’s no way to monitor. You can’t.”
~Dr. Theo Colborn, The Endocrine Disruption Exchange
From segment 2 – HEALTH, Water Under Attack (below)
Legislation is pending that will close the Halliburton Loophole, but we need more support for these bills. Please ask your member of Congress or Senator to co-sponsor these bills.
S. 1215 – Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals (FRAC) Act
A bill to amend the Safe Drinking Water Act to repeal a certain exemption for hydraulic fracturing, and for other purposes.
H.R. 2766 – Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act of 2009
To repeal the exemption for hydraulic fracturing in the Safe Drinking Water Act, and for other purposes.
Video of the 2007 Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing. This is a wake up call.
In the first quarter of 2009, the oil and gas industry spent $44.5 million lobbying against regulation. Last year they spent $129 million. In addition to lobby money, the industry PR machine is at full tilt. They’re trying to claim that hydraulic fracturing regulation should remain at the state level and spinning it as a state’s rights issue.
Here is the truth about state regulation: Currently Alabama is the only state in the US with special provisions to regulate hydraulic fracturing. The other states do not have specific fracturing rules; they rely on general drilling rules – casing, logs, pressure monitoring, waste disposal, etc. – to indirectly cover hydraulic fracturing.
Colorado has a disclosure rule that is not specific to fracturing – it covers all chemicals used down hole – drilling, fracturing, completion, etc. New York and Pennsylvania also require disclosure of fracking chemicals, but no actual regulation.
Legislation being considered by Congress would allow most states to remain the primary regulators of hydraulic fracturing, with flexibility as to their programs, but the legislation provides critical federal oversight – something that was lost when Congress passed the “Halliburton loophole” in 2005.
The American Petroleum Institute released a study claiming that regulating hydraulic fracturing would “devastate the economy.” Regulation certainly hasn’t hurt Alabama. I suspect it’s the liability and accountability that concerns them most because I fail to understand how regulating something that industry claims is perfectly safe would have such a huge economic impact.
Are these our choices then: A strong economy based on hydrocarbon energy or safe water and clean air?
In her commencement address at Duke University, Barbara Kingsolver said:
“We have to find another way. Enough of this shame.”
In the awful moment when someone demands at gunpoint, “Your money or your life,” the answer is not supposed to be difficult.
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