For quite a few years now, the oil and gas industry has been drilling thousands of feet into ancient seabeds, then repeatedly fracturing (fracking) the wells with millions of gallons of highly pressurized, chemically laden water, which shatters the surrounding shale and releases fossil fuels. On the face of it, this system doesn’t sound particularly safe on any level. And there are well founded concerns that fracking is detrimental to human health, livestock health and contaminates our water and food.
A cattle rancher in North Dakota, after suffering a variety of debilitating health issues, as well as the deaths of many of her cattle, hired a certified environmental consultant. The air testing done revealed elevated levels of benzene, methane, chloroform, butane, propane, toluene and xylene – compounds associated with drilling and fracking, and also with cancers, birth defects and organ damage. The cattle rancher’s blood also tested high for sulfates, chronium, chloride and strontium, as well as acetone and arsenic, which are linked with skin lesions, cancers and cardiovascular disease. Germanium was also present, which is linked to muscle weakness and skin rashes. High selenium and radiation poisoning were also found in the ranch’s water, which can cause tooth loss.
Soil acidity increases in areas of oil and gas pipelines where flaring occurs, reducing the amount of nutrients in the soil such as carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus. The reduction of these nutrients makes it difficult for plants to grow and produce. When methane, the primary component of natural gas, leaks from gas lines it changes the oxygen and bacterial content of the soil. Energy companies don’t regularly inform potential lease signers about the environmental risks they face, but the Securities and Exchange Commission requires them to inform investors. In one such filing, “well site blowouts, cratering and explosions; equipment failures; uncontrolled flows of natural gas, oil or well fluids; fires, formations with abnormal pressures; pollution and other environmental risks” were cited.
Fracking releases toxic heavy metals like arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, lead and mercury into soils. Growing plants absorb these metals and enter the food chain. Waste water from fracking also can contain radioactivity levels over 100 times the EPA’s recommended standard for drinking water. Forty percent of the chemicals added to create fracking fluid are known endocrine disruptors. These chemicals can cause problems such as male and female infertility in livestock and humans.
Water use is also troubling. Each gas well drilled for hydrofracking requires the use of millions of gallons of water. This water is taken from local lakes, streams and rivers and is then loaded with tens of thousands of pounds of toxic chemicals and sand. This water is irrecoverable and the risk of pumping water sources dry is serious. Between 60-80% of the water used in fracking remains underground where it can leak into and contaminate aquifers. The remaining 20-40% returns to the surface where it can poison water sources. Surface water has killed animals nationwide. Animals are attracted to the saltiness of the fracking fluids, leading them to ingest lethal quantities and die.
Farmers obviously require clean water, soil and air to produce healthy food, but as the largest landowners in shale across the country, they are disproportionately being approached by energy companies eager to make a buck.
Despite the growing evidence that this sort of natural gas extraction is poisoning the water table and leaking carcinogenic chemicals into the environment, there exist a number of D.C. based institutes and foundations promoting fracking. Many of these pro-fracking think tanks (Heartland Institute and the American Legislative Exchange Council, aka ALEC) are funded by Koch Industries. The Koch brothers, David and Charles, are heavily invested in the extraction of natural gas, as they are partnering with NuStar Energy to develop a pipeline. The pipeline will transport crude from fracking sites in southern Texas. Flint Hills Resource, a Koch Industries subsidiary, recently purchased a pier and wharf in Ingleside, Texas to store shipments of natural gas from fracking operations. Koch Chemical Technology Group is designing a processing facility near Yoakum, Texas to help process natural gas fracked in southern Texas. John Zink, a Koch Industries company, is providing flares to service the fracking industry, and Koch Fertilizer is utilizing increased gas production from fracking to develop fertilizer.
The Koch brothers are obviously invested in the continued growth of the fracking industry, and as their worth is a reported $22 billion each they can afford to lobby the federal government to protect their investments. Indeed, the Obama administration recently amended fracking regulations, which not only do not stop this injurious practice, but allow oil and gas companies even more leverage than previously enjoyed.
I fail to see a way to fight corporate money, other than if the farmers refuse to lease their lands to abet fracking. Some states, however, invariably a result of Koch financial pressure, have established bills that would force landowners to lease their lands.
Obama, although certainly better than the alternative, continues to disappoint. The bar for responsible governance, unfortunately, has fallen so low that even Richard Nixon looks good by comparison. Before all is swept away in the pursuit of corporate profit (just as in the early part of the 20th century), people must seriously begin to pay attention and vote according to their best interests.
It’s the season of the three S’s – Salmon, Strawberries and Sugar Snap Peas – time to make a salad.
Grilled Salmon Salad with Strawberries and Sugar Snap Peas
I estimate about 1/4 lb of salmon for every person
Grill wild salmon for about 15 minutes, skin side down, no seasoning, bring to room temperature
Rinsed and trimmed sugar snap peas, as many you like
Enough lettuce for the amount of people involved, or a similar amount of mixed, wild greens
1/3 lb goat cheese, the creamier the better (this would be the amount for 2 people, but put in what you like)
one very small sweet or red onion, sliced thinly
As many organic strawberries as you wish
Combine ingredients and toss with a little extra virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar