Hydraulic Fracturing and the Lives of 17 Million
In Dimock, Pa, the tap water of local residents could be lit on fire. Moreover, researchers found that people living there faced increased rates of infant mortality, depression, and hospitalizations. In Texas, researchers found that babies born were 50 percent more likely to be premature. In Colorado, the state Department of Health found that people faced elevated risk of nosebleeds, headaches, breathing trouble, and dizziness. Why? Because of the simple reason that these people had fracking chemicals in their water.
Since the 1970s, hydraulic fracturing, otherwise known as fracking, has been exempt from basic water environmental laws set by the EPA to ensure the safety of Americans and their water. The process of fracking injects fluids at high pressures into rock formations, allowing for the collection of natural oil and gas. After these reactions, the water used in the process flows back up, creating so-called wastewater or flowback. A disproportionately large effect of fracking is improper disposal of chemicals and wastewater involved, and this careless contamination endangers millions of Americans, including those in our own communities.
For example, a study conducted by researchers from Columbia University found that 17 million Americans are at risk of disease or death as a direct result of fracking chemicals in their drinking water (McGovern). Furthermore, research in multiple counties of Oklahoma discovered multiple harms, such as a 4.2% reduction in life expectancy, 6.8% increase in mortality rate, a 7.9% increase in cancer diseases, a 7.3% increase in cardiac diseases, and a 5.9% increase in respiratory diseases (Kling). This issue is heavily pervasive, especially since major fracking wells are centered in high population areas such as California and New York.
Another facet of the problem which has consistently frustrated prior attempts to regulate fracking is intensive lobbying within the government by major fracking companies. An article by Matthew Dondiego from the New York State Senate reveals that major fracking companies have spent $48.9 million just to prevent meaningful legislation and regulations from passing (Dondiego). Moreover, fracking consistently escapes regulations through the Halliburton loophole, an exemption created by fracking companies in the Safe Drinking Water Act and Clean Water Act in order to allow fracking companies to inject toxic, radioactive chemicals into local drinking water supplies without regard for the safety of the general public.
Currently, the most popular proposed regulations on fracking are from the Frack Pack, a series of legislation proposed by Congresswoman Diana DeGette in 2015. The legislation addresses multiple issues within the fracking industry by closing the Halliburton loophole, preventing injection of toxic substances in the process of fracking, and forcing full disclosure of fracking procedures (DeGette). Some other regulations involve mandatory treatment of fracking water through treatment plants equipped with various technologies, the use of Class II injection wells to store fracking water rather than dumping it into water supplies, and completely banning it altogether.
A frequently referenced disadvantage to regulating fracking is the risk of bankruptcy to fracking companies and loss of energy, both of which would heavily impact the US economy. As a direct result of the pandemic, multiple fracking companies face heavy financial insecurity, and some are worried that the Frack Pack or similar regulations would drive the fracking industry to the ground, thus impacting one of the largest sources of energy in the entire nation. However, recent analyses have concluded that under current circumstances, this should no longer be an issue: the largest fracking companies recently made a profit of $174 billion, and oil and gas company Shell saw an increase in revenue of 60% (Milman).
Fracking companies should not be allowed to contaminate our drinking water with toxic substances, and should be held to the basic environmental laws of the government. For too long, we’ve remained complacent, but it’s time to fight for universal access to safe, clean water. We cannot allow ourselves to continue being exposed to such dangerous living conditions. For fifty years we’ve put off this issue, but we need to take action now. If now isn’t the time, when is?