Elections have consequences. Republicans are very fond of saying this, but they rarely accept the “will of the people.” The November 4 election that swept more GOP candidates into the U.S. Senate also made Denton the first city in Texas to ban fracking by a 59-percent majority. Voters did this in the midst of the Barnett Shale basin where the “father of fracking,” George Mitchell drilled the first sample wells for his company, Mitchell Energy. Immediately, the Texas General Land Office and the Texas Oil and Gas Association filed lawsuits to stop the ban.
The incoming land commissioner is George P. Bush, latest in the Bush dynasty to be connected to the oil industry. The legal complaint was filed by the firm Baker Botts; James A. Baker III, a partner at the firm gave P. Bush $10,000 for his campaign. (His race was also funded by hundreds of thousands of dollars from other companies in the oil and gas industry.) Co-counsel in the lawsuit has close ties with the Texas Supreme Court and Justice Antonin Scalia. P. Bush’s father, Jeb Bush, works for Britton Hill Holdings which has investments in a fracking company.
Denton has company in banning fracking. It was one of four bans approved this month—two in California and one in Athens (OH). The Texas town may be the only place, however, where the state blithely ignores the decision of voters. Christi Craddick, the chief regulator for the oil and gas industries in Texas, will override the vote:
“It’s my job to give permits, not Denton’s. We’re going to continue permitting up there because that’s my job.”
It’s also Craddick’s job to deny permits when warranted. Denton has one of the most mined cities in all of Texas: corporations have pumped more than $1 billion in gas from underneath the town. The campaign to keep fracking brought in over 30 times as much as the frack-banning position, $685,000 to $24,000. The massive donations from frackers make Craddick look foolish when she claimed that voters were too “misinformed” on the subject to be able to cast a vote.
Frackers declare that no one can prove that their industry is causing the pollution and health problems, but scientists have developed a way to identify when fracking wastes results in environmental contamination through tracking isotopic fingerprints of boron and lithium. The new science reveals that fracking has caused far more risks of drinking water contamination from this wastewater even after the water is treated. In 2012, fracking wells in the United States produced 280 billion gallons of wastewater, a horrifying statistic because over 55 percent of fracked wells are in drought areas.
Large corporations have attempted to keep the locations of their fracking wells secret so people cannot blame them for illness and death. Researchers on health are now obtaining this information from SkyTruth, a West Virginia nonprofit that uses satellite and aerial imagery to study the environmental impacts of oil- and gas-drilling, deforestation, mining, etc. The company has discovered 500 new fracking ponds in just Pennsylvania, up from 11 in less than a decade.
Frackers have illegally dumped almost 3 billion gallons of wastewater through at least nine injection disposal wells into central California aquifers that supply drinking water and farming irrigation, resulting in high levels of arsenic, thallium, and nitrates. Thallium is used in rat poison, and arsenic compromises the immune system’s ability to fight illness and causes cancer. Benzene, toluene, and other harmful chemicals is found at levels hundreds of times higher than what is considered safe. California has an estimated 2,583 wastewater injection wells; 1,552 are currently active.
The flowback water can also be dangerously radioactive, as can the sludge left over from drilling. Last summer, Pennsylvania was scheduled to ship its old drilling sludge to Michigan, home to 84 percent of the nation’s fresh water supply. On the other hand, Ohio just hands out permits to put all the radioactive sludge in instate dumps.
A study in September found that people near fracking wells are twice as likely to have upper-respiratory and skin problems. Earlier studies connect fracking to birth defects, higher lung disease risks, and elevated endocrine-disrupting chemical activity in groundwater.
The health impact on people also hits agriculture, causing concerns about food safety. Animals infected by toxins can pass those along through meat, milk, and eggs. In one study, half the cattle exposed to a contaminated water source died, 17 of them within one hour. Necropsies found lesions in the lung, trachea, liver and kidneys. A high incidence of stillborn and stunted calves occurred in the other half. The same number of cattle with no exposure in another pasture had no health or growth problems. High salinity in wastewater threatens crops and farming soil.
A new study has also found contaminated water from defective well production in Texas and Pennsylvania. Instead of blaming the wastewater, researchers said that the leakage comes from faulty cement casing on the wells. The newest wells, especially in northwestern Pennsylvania, provide the biggest risks. The higher failure rate may be the longer horizontal distances that puts pressure on the casings. In September, Pennsylvania released information about 243 cases of contamination of private drinking wells from fracking in 22 counties after the state Supreme Court ordered that this information be made public. In the same month, state health experts claimed that the Department of Health was telling employees not to talk to residents about fracking-related health effects.
Other scientists have discovered much greater methane emissions from fracking than the EPA previously disclosed. By 2015, the EPA will require drillers to capture methane in the completion process and turn it into liquid that can then be sold. Methane in this stage of fracking fell 73 percent. Unfortunately, the EPA reported that emissions at other stages of fracking significantly increased, and scientists found that the natural gas methane leakage is much greater than the EPA estimates. Methane is several dozen times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide.
New research also shows a much greater connection between fracking and earthquakes than earlier realized. Although fracking itself may not be a great cause, a large number of them—and those of greater magnitude—are caused by wastewater injection. In early October 2013, after fracking began in Harrison County (OH) almost 200 quakes occurred in just two days. The number of quakes diminished after fracking ended. The same thing happened in the Youngstown/Mahoning Valley region after fracking started there.
Frackers are also destroying the environment by mining sand. One single well demands 4 million pounds of sand, precisely Northern White sand. Residents in Wisconsin and Minnesota now suffer truck traffic, silica dust, and breathing problems. The dust causes silicosis, swelling in the lungs and lymph nodes that restricts breathing. Not satisfied with the 4 million pounds per well, the industry is using extra sand because the U.S. Commerce Department lets it export unrefined ultralight oil. Individual mining operations also require between 420 thousand and 2 million gallons of water each day. A by-product of the mining is acrylamide, a carcinogenic neurotoxin.
The industry plans to expand sand mining into Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Vermont, and Virginia. A by-product of the mining is acrylamide, a carcinogenic neurotoxin. Real estate values near sand mines can drop in value as much as 25 percent, and residents have to pay higher taxes for the destruction of the roads.
The group that claims it’s trying to prevent cancer, the Susan G. Komen Foundation, is partnering with fossil fuel firms that cause cancer on a breast cancer awareness campaign. Baker Hughes plans to distribute 1,000 pink drill bits to heighten awareness of cancer. The company is also donating $100,000 for a “yearlong partnership.” A spokeswoman at the Komen Foundation denies that there’s any connection between fracking and breast cancer.
Anyone who complains about the effects of fracking may be sued. The fracking company Range Resources is suing Steve Lipsky for $3 million because of his film in which he lights his water on fire. Range claims that he has defamed its reputation for environmental stewardship. The case of free speech v. big business goes to the Texas Supreme Court on December 4. Range has already settled with a family near Pittsburgh for $750,000 after they agreed that they would not say anything negative about the corporation or the entire gas formation, the Marcellus Shale. Last year, the town board of Sanford (NY) stopped any discussion about fracking at its public meetings before a lawsuit made them withdraw their order. Anti-fracking activist Vera Scoggins was barred from any Cabot Oil & Gas property that includes friends’ homes, a hospital, malls, and grocery stores—40 percent of the county.
Fracking creates illness and death, makes land unsafe, causes water shortages, raises prices for food, lowers real estate value, and destroys the infrastructure while big corporations buy off supposedly philanthropic organizations and stop free speech. Welcome to the United Corporations of America.