When will fracking’s other shoe drop? Cancer


The process of fracking is a relatively new one. In fact, sometimes I think we forget just how new it is. It was just mid-2000s that word spread among industry officials about a new technology to affordably free up oil and natural gas trapped in tiny pockets within shale formations — and Congress and the Bush administration enacted favorable energy legislation. In those early years, fracking was confined to a few isolated areas, such as Oklahoma and rural Pennsylvania, and it wasn’t until the start of this decade and the documentary “Gasland”  that the word “fracking” even entered the vocabulary.

I bring up this history because the we’ve also learned about the environmental impacts of fracking in a very piecemeal way. At first we heard about individual cases of tainted wells and, most famously, homeowners lighting their tap water on fire. Over time, we learned of more systemic failures, such as the wave of earthquakes that have plagued places such as Oklahoma or Ohio where there was once very little seismic activity. Meanwhile, we’ve seen reports of rural residents who live in the shadow of fracking rigs reporting headaches, nausea, respiratory problems, and other ailments — but there’s been no link to more serious diseases.

But now a shocking new report says there’s only one reason why fracking has not been more closely linked to cancer — and that’s time:

Oil and gas wells across the country are spewing “dangerous” cancer-causing chemicals into the air, according to a new study that further corroborates reports of health problems around hydraulic fracturing sites.

“This is a significant public health risk,” says Dr. David Carpenter, director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University at Albany-State University of New York and lead author of the study, which was published Thursday in the journal Environmental Health. “Cancer has a long latency, so you’re not seeing an elevation in cancer in these communities. But five, 10, 15 years from now, elevation in cancer is almost certain to happen.”

Eight poisonous chemicals were found near wells and fracking sites in Arkansas, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Wyoming at levels that far exceeded recommended federal limits. Benzene, a carcinogen, was the most common, as was formaldehyde, which also has been linked to cancer. Hydrogen sulfide, which smells like rotten eggs and can affect the brain and upper-respiratory system, also was found.

“I was amazed,” Carpenter says. “Five orders of magnitude over federal limits for benzene at one site – that’s just incredible. You could practically just light a match and have an explosion with that concentration.

 “It’s an indication of how leaky these systems are.”

Please read the entire report — you’ll be alarmed at the levels of these dangerous chemicals such as benzene, which is one of the most carcinogenic substances around. But maybe these numbers shouldn’t be a surprise, since I’ve read many times that neighbors of fracking sites report a constant foul order, such as the smell of rotten eggs, which is completely consistent with these airborne toxins.

It makes you wonder, though, where are the state regulators? This information is readily available to scientific researchers who have the time and the right equipment. But we’ve seen repeated cases in which these agencies — most of which are far too cozy with the oil and gas companies they’re supposed to be watching — either don’t bother to collect the data, or suppress the results. These practices could be lethal for the citizens that their paid to protect — but by the time these cancer clusters develop, most of the so-called regulators will be long gone…for well=paying jobs in private industry.

To learn more about the high risk of cancer from fracking air pollution, please read: http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2014/10/30/toxic-chemicals-and-carcinogens-skyrocket-near-fracking-sites-study-says

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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