It’s hard to imagine how the news about fracking could get any worse. On any given day, my news feed is filled with reports from all across America, and sometimes from outside our borders, about the unintended environmental consequences of this extreme method of extracting natural gas from the shale formations under the earth. Just today, there was yet another report of an earthquake in Oklahoma — where seismic activity was practically unknown before the fracking boom — and yet another Pennsylvanian stepping forward with proof that his well water became contaminated after the gas drillers came to town.
But some of the most alarming reports involve trashing our most precious natural resource — water, of course — in order to exploit more fossil fuels. We already knew that some of the greatest use and abuse of water has been taken place in the part of the nation that can least afford it: The drought-parched West. It’s a hard notion to swallow — that the oil industry’s unslakable thirst for water would trump the need for people to drink, bathe their children. or wash their clothes. But it turns out the situation is even more dire than we realized. In order to frack the American West, Big Oil is not just stealing the water but putting it back laced with pollution:
Almost 3 billion gallons of oil industry wastewater have been illegally dumped into central California aquifers that supply drinking water and farming irrigation, according to state documents obtained by the Center for Biological Diversity. The wastewater entered the aquifers through at least nine injection disposal wells used by the oil industry to dispose of waste contaminated with fracking fluids and other pollutants.
The documents also reveal that Central Valley Water Board testing found high levels of arsenic, thallium and nitrates — contaminants sometimes found in oil industry wastewater — in water-supply wells near these waste-disposal operations.
“Clean water is one of California’s most crucial resources, and these documents make it clear that state regulators have utterly failed to protect our water from oil industry pollution,” said Hollin Kretzmann, a Center attorney. “Much more testing is needed to gauge the full extent of water pollution and the threat to public health. But Governor Brown should move quickly to halt fracking to ward off a surge in oil industry wastewater that California simply isn’t prepared to dispose of safely.”
The state’s Water Board confirmed beyond doubt that at least nine wastewater disposal wells have been injecting waste into aquifers that contain high-quality water that is supposed to be protected under federal and state law.
Thallium is an extremely toxic chemical commonly used in rat poison. Arsenic is a toxic chemical that can cause cancer. Some studies show that even low-level exposure to arsenic in drinking water can compromise the immune system’s ability to fight illness.
“Arsenic and thallium are extremely dangerous chemicals,” said Timothy Krantz, a professor of environmental studies at the University of Redlands. “The fact that high concentrations are showing up in multiple water wells close to wastewater injection sites raises major concerns about the health and safety of nearby residents.”
This is a shocking development, and the most damning evidence against fracking yet. It also demonstrates that even states with a better-than-average track record on environmental issues — in this case, California under liberal Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown — have fallen asleep at the switch when it comes to the risks posed by unconventional gas drilling. It’s also one more piece of evidence that the American West is particularly at risk.
Also this weekend, it was reported that a giant, dangerous methane bubble exists over Arizona — the result of conventional coal mining activities. But how much worse can we expect that problem to get due to fracking, which is also releasing way too much methane into our atmosphere? When will we learn that no amount of seemingly cheap energy is worth trashing the water that we drink or the air that we breathe.
Here’s the Center for Biological Diversity report on polluted wastewater releases in California: http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/news/press_releases/2014/fracking-10-06-2014.html
Here’s news of yet another earthquake in Oklahoma: http://kfor.com/2014/10/13/3-4-earthquake-wakes-up-central-oklahoma/
Here’s the latest news on complaints of fracking contaminating well water in Pennsylvania: http://powersource.post-gazette.com/powersource/companies-powersource/2014/10/13/Washington-County-drilling-hearing-raises-conflicts-over-contamination/stories/201410130022
Read Climate Central’s report on the massive ozone hot spot over Arizona: http://www.climatecentral.org/news/huge-methane-emissions-hot-spot-in-u.s.-18156
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