You may have heard about environmentalists protesting against hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking.” Fracking is a process in which water is typically mixed with sand and chemicals, and the mixture is injected at high pressure into a wellbore-or drill hole-to create fractures. The ultimate purpose is to extract natural gas from rock formations in the ground. The fracking process has become highly controversial because confsiderable evidence shows that fracking may contaminate local water supplies. Furthermore, companies that engage in the practice are entitled to special exemptions under federal law, despite the fact that many people may be drinking poisoned water as a result of this process.
Experts have suspected that fracking is a health hazard since the late 1980s. A Pittsburgh Post-Gazette report indicated that, in 1987, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) concluded that hydraulic fracturing of a deep natural gas well in Jackson County, West Virginia, contaminated groundwater and private wells. The official EPA report, titled “Cracks in the Facade,” is available for review.
Our firm is investigating potential lawsuits on behalf of individuals who may have suffered injury or loss due to fracking.
Hydraulic Fracturing (Fracking)-What is it?
About 90 percent of the nation’s natural gas and oil wells are fracked. Hydraulic fracturing involves injecting water, sand, and a cocktail of chemicals horizontally and at high pressure into rock formations thousands of feet below the Earth’s surface. This process opens existing fractures in the rock and allows gas to rise from the wells.
Many of the chemicals used in shale gas drilling, such as benzene, are hazardous to humans and animals. Long-term exposure to such chemicals may lead to serious health consequences. The federal Energy Policy Act of 2005 exempted hydraulic fracturing from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act; as a result, shale gas drillers are not required to disclose the mix of chemicals they use in their shale gas drilling processes.
Despite attempts by these companies to keep the composition of their fracking fluids secret, some information about what they contain is known. A study conducted prior to 2012 by Theo Colburn, PhD, the director of the Endocrine Disruption Exchange in Paonia, Colorado, identified 65 chemicals considered probable components of the injection fluids used by shale gas drillers. Chemicals-all of which have been linked to health disorders at high exposures-include benzene, glycol-ethers, toluene, 2-(2-methoxyethoxy) ethanol, and nonylphenols. All of these chemicals have been linked to health disorders when human exposure is too high.
Yale Study Links Fracking to Cancer-Causing Chemicals
In October 2016, a study published in the journal Science of the Total Environment found that fracking involves a number of cancer-causing chemicals. These carcinogens may contaminate the air and water of people living near fracking sites. Findings suggest that the chemicals involved in fracking have the potential to increase the risk of childhood leukemia, which has experts worried given its severity and short latency period, meaning the leukemia may appear quickly after exposure to a carcinogen.
The study was conducted by researchers from the Yale School of Public Health. Lead author Nicole Deziel, Ph.D., assistant professor, said “Because children are a particularly vulnerable population, research efforts should first be directed toward investigating whether exposure to hydraulic fracturing is associated with an increased risk,” according to an article posted on the Yale School of Public Health website.
Dr. Deziel and her team analyzed a list of over 1,000 chemicals that may contaminate the air or water due to fracking. She comments that this is the most comprehensive review of carcinogens associated with fracking thus far. Previous studies have examined the carcinogenicity of more selective lists of chemicals,” Deziel stated. “To our knowledge, our analysis represents the most expansive review of carcinogenicity of hydraulic fracturing-related chemicals in the published literature,” she added.
Researchers found that the majority (over 80 percent) of the chemicals used in fracking lacked data on their potential to cause cancer. This finding reveals a gap in knowledge. There was sufficient data on 119 chemicals. Of these, 44 percent of water pollutants and 60 percent of air pollutants were confirmed or possible carcinogens, the authors found. Some compounds have the potential to contaminate both air and water. As such, a total of 55 unique compounds were identified as potential carcinogens in fracking. Researchers identified 20 chemicals that have specifically been linked to an increased risk of leukemia or lymphoma. These findings create a list of priority chemicals to focus on for future research on fracking effects.
People’s Health, Communities, and Environments Damaged by Fracking
People living in the vicinity of shale gas drilling have reported foul-smelling tap water. In some instances gas well pipes used in fracking have broken, resulting in leakage of contaminants into the surrounding ground.
Fracking devastated one small town in Pennsylvania called Dimock. Cabot Oil & Gas drilled dozens of wells in Dimock. Sadly, problems with the cement casing on 20 of those wells caused contamination of local water wells, driving down property values and causing sickness. In some cases, methane levels in some Dimock water wells are so high that homeowners could set water aflame as it flowed from the tap.
In April 2010, state environmental regulators fined Cabot $240,000 and ordered it to permanently shut three wells and install water-treatment systems in 14 homes within 30 days or face a $30,000 a month fine. Cabot’s more than two-dozen pending drilling applications were also put on hold.
The violations seen in Dimock are not uncommon in Pennsylvania. A 2010 report issued by the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association found that the state had identified 1,435 violations by 43 Marcellus Shale drilling companies since January 2008. Of those, 952 of the violations were identified as having, or likely to have, an impact on the environment.
The Texas Barnett shale region is another area where fracking is booming. In August 2010, an air sampling taken from the Texas town of Dish by Wolf Eagle Environmental “confirmed the presence in high concentrations of carcinogenic and neurotoxin compounds in ambient air near and/or on residential properties.” In June 2010, tests by the Texas Railroad Commission showed arsenic, barium, chromium, lead, and selenium in a residential water well in Dish. The tainted water turned up at a home in Dish shortly after a nearby gas well was drilled.
Results of air testing by the Commission released the same month detected benzene concentration at 37 parts per billion (ppb) at a Devon Energy complex on Jim Baker Road between the towns of Justin and Dish. The highest benzene reading overall, 95 ppb, was detected at a Stallion Oilfield Services commercial disposal well in Parker County. All six facilities revisited by state inspectors are within about 1,000 feet from people’s homes.
Earlier this decade, the Canadian drilling company EnCana began ramping up development in Wyoming’s Pavillion/Muddy Ridge gas fields. In the summer of 2010, the majority of Pavillion residents who participated in a health survey reported having respiratory problems, headaches, nausea, itchy skin, dizziness, and other ailments. According to the Earthworks Oil and Gas Accountability Project, many residents also reported that their well water was tainted by fracking. Various ailments that residents reported are associated with contaminants that the EPA has identified in Pavillion well water, Earthworks indicated.
Such reports do not even begin to tell the whole story of the damage fracking has done to communities and parts of the environment stretching across the country.
Legal Help for Victims of Hydraulic Fracturing
Hydraulic fracturing is destroying the environment and threatening the health of thousands of people. If you and your family have become victims of contamination caused by fracking, you have valuable legal rights. Please fill out our online form, or call 1-800-YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529) today to schedule a free consultation with one of our hydraulic fracturing lawyers.