“It was so bad sometimes that my daughter would be in the shower in the morning, and she’d have to get out of the shower and lay on the floor,” recalls Craig Sautner in an interview with U.S. News. Chemical levels in the household water have skyrocketed since hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, started just a half mile from the Sautners’ home. Even with expensive filtration equipment the water is not safe for drinking and evidently bathing as well. Aside from the methane that allows people to light their tap water on fire there are other many dangerous chemicals that can cause cancer and other illnesses.
Many places in the U.S. have oil underneath them that we have known about for many years but only within the last few decades has it become economically feasible to drill them. These places are known as Shale-gas deposits and generally exist in a thin layer of shale about a mile beneath the surface and can stretch for many miles. Hydraulic fracturing shoots a water, sand, and chemical combination at high pressure into the loose rock allowing oil companies to gather up the gas and refine it right there. The process for refining is just as bad, they gather all of the oil and burn the impurities off that include many of the dangerous chemicals that were in the fracking fluid. A huge amount of harmful chemicals are released into the air when this is done. All waste is either left there or taken to a nearby river or stream where it is dumped and left to pollute hundreds of miles of stream. This runoff contains many radioactive elements among other chemicals. Activists have gotten hold of some samples of the fracking fluid and have brought them to labs to get analyzed. Water makes of the vast majority of the compound but some chemicals that are present are, benzene which is cancer causing , ethylbenzene and toluene which cause neurological harm, xylene and methanol which are possible causes of the Sautners’ dizziness nausea and vomiting (though it is more likely that methanol is the cause), formaldehyde is a preserving agent that can cause severe injury to the upper gastrointestinal tract, and hydrochloric acid which causes the skin and eye pain (In a congressional testimony, some drilling companies have confirmed the presence of these chemicals.). Theo Colborn, an expert in water issues and a panel member in the EPA, estimates that a third of the chemicals in fracking fluid remain unknown to the public. That’s a whole lot of danger to have around you in my opinion.
The depletion of easier-to-reach, “conventional” gas deposits, and increases in the price of natural gas have spurned this change to horizontal drilling instead of the standard vertical drilling. Fracking wells have sprung up closer and closer to homes around the country and we are seeing the impacts on the communities as more and more children are getting sick. The impacts on the Sautners’ is undeniable. The family first realized that the nearby fracking was bad when their water turned brown and was causing corrosion on their dishes. They complained to Cabot, the drilling company responsible, and got a water pump installed. This fixed most problems but when health agencies sampled their water they found that the methane levels were way higher than considered safe. The son often had sores on his arms and legs from the water and the entire family experienced headaches and dizziness. With the water so contaminated the family has to take showers away from home but they cannot afford to move because the property value was ruined by the nearby well.
Much closer to home is Clif Willmeng, an anti-fracking activist, who lives in Lafayette Colorado. He spent many days during the flood in 2013 documenting all the fracking wells in Boulder County. He visited hundreds of wells and he saw many that were overturned, cracked or washed away completely leaving behind pools of waste materials and radioactive elements (I don’t actually know how he knows it was radioactive as he didn’t say anything about bringing a geiger counter.).
As fracking is here to stay whether we like it or not we should probably make it safer. Engineers and scientists alike have been asked this question and there were three main points, fix the leaks, get more data, and build better wells. Natural gas is a much better form of fuel for our environment than burning coal but contains mostly methane. When released into the air without being burned methane is a big player in climate change. Cracked pipes allow much more methane to be released than is considered acceptable by the federal government. Some companies are ready to change. Allowing so much gas to escape hurts their profits in the long run as well as the environment.
Data can also lead the way to a safer future. If extensive government tests were run on the water and soil prior to drilling then companies would be much safer with drill sites least they got shut down. According to the EPA, monitoring the levels of methane in water would also give data to show how bad fracking really is as we don’t have actual unbiased results at this time. Before-and-after air sampling could identify locations that release toxic compounds and surveys of community-health metrics could help identify ways in which concentrated drilling activity harms nearby residents—or dispel misconceptions and worries.
The third solution is simple, build better wells. Many wells have been deemed faulty because of bad cement. The greatest offshore environmental disaster in U.S. history, the Deepwater Horizon rig, was because of bad cement on the cap of the well. California set a possible precedent in 2013 by adding more regulations to fracking. Some of the biggest regulations were to ensure that the integrity of the well was sound, this included testing the cement used. With the U.S. drilling 100 new wells everyday it is important to make sure that they are all up to specifications.
With so many wells near our homes and families shouldn’t we be worried? We don’t want another disaster like Deepwater Horizon, this time on our doorstep.