By Elena Valle
To understand how fracking impacts the environment, understanding how the process works is key. Hydraulic fracturing, most commonly known as fracking, involves cracking open the bedrock layer of the earth’s surface with chemicals and water to obtain the methane gas underneath for commercial natural gas. This product is much cleaner than the crude oil that is primarily used today. Yet the processes involved in recovering this resource via fracking have proven to have devastating environmental consequences. After the gas has been extracted via the method described above, the chemical leftovers are either dumped in pits, where they can easily seep into the ground and groundwater sources, or burned, which leads to acid rain.
Soon after fracking became a common method of natural gas production, various states such as Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Texas, reports of water contamination and negative effects on human and animal health began to pop up. One state in particular, Pennsylvania, has filed dozens of complaints with oil companies including the Cabot Oil and Gas Corporation, and Range Resources Corporation around these environmental issues. Videos appeared on Youtube of people lighting their tap water on fire, and water samples sent to test labs proved that dangerous chemicals have contaminated it. Others reported to have suffered from illnesses, ranging from headaches to brain tumors, right after an oil company had fracked on their land. Furthermore, animals affected with miscarriages and genetic abnormalities which often led to death, were reported to have increased in native species populations. Examples such as these have also spread to states across the U.S that have allowed fracking. Unfortunately, the peoples’ complaints seem to have fallen on deaf ears. Apparently some oil conpanies would either disregard the complaints, or bribe these people with vacation trips or money.
An example of the consequences for fracking is noted in an article on Amwell Township, a village within Pennsylvania where most of their land was leased to Range Resources Corp. According to Stacy Haney, a resident of the area, her sink faucet would release black water while the liquid would eat away at the house appliances that used it. She also stated that her shower water produced a foul odor similar to rotten eggs. All of these problems occurred after she leased her land to Range Resources. Another problem she explained, according to the reporter who interviewed her, her neighbor’s animals began to act strangely soon after the company left:
“…Voyles called Haney to tell her that her barrel horse, Jody, was dead. Lab results revealed a high level of toxicity in her liver…Voyles’s boxers began to abort litters of puppies; six were born with cleft palates. They died within hours. Others were born dead or without legs or hair.”
In the documentary Gasland, director Josh Fox travels across several states in hopes of understanding the consequences of fracking. Interviewing dozens of families, he comes to the conclusion that fracking has an extreme negative impact on the environment because of several complaints in which residents’ water supplies have been contaminated and how it affects both them and the wildlife that depends on the water sources. It also becomes clear in the film that the oil companies responsible for fracking are avoiding this grave problem through either gag orders, bribery, or simply ignoring the complaints of the people. Initially, very few evidence could be found that water contamination connected to fracking as oil companies weren’t required to send reports of what chemicals they used for the fracking fluid. However, people who have sent samples to test labs were shocked to see that their water contained chemicals that were clearly not there before.
Currently, anti-fracking organizations protest in an effort to push their respective governors to ban fracking for fear of their own health and their families. The Food and Water Watch is one of the main organizations to protest against oil companies and they accused the corporations of harming the public’s health. In almost every anti-fracking event or hearing, this group is always mentioned. And they are not alone in their quest to ban fracking. Other organizations such as Adminicus, Berks Gas Truth, and Bold Nebraska are all participating in this cause. These and many more have also funded Gasland because it’s one of their main sources in proving that fracking is not beneficial in terms of the environment and human health. These organizations have one goal: to get rid of fracking from the states. They hope to convince the public to completely move away from fracking, as it’s the poor who suffer since they lease their lands in hopes of becoming more financially stable, as well as showing them that the oil companies don’t care for their wellbeing. Although, there are problems as to how they choose to act to convey their message. Various times the Food And Water Watch’s reports on environmental decay have been considered exaggerated data. They have also been known to scare the public with false claims against the oil companies, or leaving out certain details.
One thing the protesters have managed to accomplish is rallying public supprot in some of the key fracking states. As such, New York is one of the states to ban fracking, although Governor Cuomo is receiving backlash from the oil companies and is being accused of keeping millions of jobs away from those who need it. Conversely, Governor Corbett has not given any signs of banning of fracking in Pennsylvania in spite of the fact that reports of environmental hazards are on the rise. He has tried to convince the people of the benefits by creating advertisements, yet those affected by fracking aren’t buying it. The other fracking states have also not made any moves to follow suit behind New York, while Governor Brown of California has stayed neutral on the topic while the people continue to push for a ban.
Fracking will continue in the U.S which will no doubt affect more and more people, but the dangers of it has raised a lot of attention and concern. Whether or not the states will adopt it or not is yet to be seen. Completely banning hydraulic fracturing may not be such a bad idea since jobs could be created by investing in renewable energy and can help decrease the unemployment rate and boost our failing economy. Americans, especially the most economically vulnerable, should not be put in a position where they have to choose between their livelihood or their health.
Over all, here is a graphic representation of those in favor, against, or have no opinion of fracking in New York alone: