• How bad is process for extracting natural gas for health and environment?
By James Spounias —
Does the controversial use of fracking cause numerous problems to our health and planet? The answer is yes, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), EcoWatch, and other environmental groups. With more than 15 million Americans living within a mile of a fracking site, it certainly matters.
Not surprisingly, the oil industry disagrees. Numerous industry-related websites use text from EnergyFromShale.org that states: “Fracking is shorthand for hydraulic fracturing, a type of drilling that has been used commercially for 65 years . . . . Hydraulic fracturing involves safely tapping shale and other tight-rock formations by drilling a mile or more below the surface before gradually turning horizontal and continuing several thousand feet more.”
While the industry explanation paints fracking as benign, a new study from Duke University clearly disputes that position. Researchers mapped more than 3,900 accidental brine spills (oil and gas well wastewater) from the 9,700 wells drilled in the past decade in North Dakota alone. Their testing of water and soil around spills found radioactive and toxic substances in levels that exceed federal drinking water standards.
Duke Ph.D. student Nancy Lauer was lead author of the study, published in Environmental Science & Technology. She stated: “Unlike spilled oil, which starts to break down in soil, these spilled brines consist of inorganic chemicals, metals, and salts that are resistant to biodegradation. They don’t go away; they stay. This has created a legacy of radioactivity at spill sites.”
In one North Dakota soil test, the highest level of radium measured was more than 4,600 becquerels per kilogram. To put this number in perspective, under North Dakota law, waste with levels greater than 185 becquerels per kilogram is considered too radioactive to dispose of in regular landfills without special permits and licenses.
“The results of [the Duke] study indicate that the water contamination from brine spills is remarkably persistent in the environment, resulting in elevated levels of salts and trace elements that can be preserved in spill sites for at least months to years,” the study concluded. “The relatively long half-life of [radium 226] (1,600 years) suggests that [radium] contamination in spill sites will remain for thousands of years.”
What about the water, which we not only drink, shower, and bathe in, but also use for agriculture?
Commenting on the Duke study, Avner Vengosh, professor of geochemistry and water quality at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, said: “Until now, research in many regions of the nation has shown that contamination from fracking has been fairly sporadic and inconsistent. In North Dakota, however, we find it is widespread and persistent, with clear evidence of direct water contamination from fracking.”
Critics of fracking blame Dick Cheney, whose 2001 Energy Task Force recommended that Congress exempt fracking from the Safe Drinking Water Act. In 2004, the Bush administration’s EPA found that “fracking poses no or little threat” to drinking water and that no further study was needed. Even though EPA whistleblower Weston Wilson called the EPA study “scientifically unsound,” which prompted an EPA inspector general investigation, the exemption was not removed, although the EPA was authorized to regulate “the use of diesel” in fracking operations.
What of the health dangers posed by fracking?
The NRDC compiled a report in 2014 of studies that suggest fracking causes respiratory problems, nervous system impacts, birth defects, blood disorders, and cancer. Studies found high levels of volatile organic compounds—which cause asthma, shortness of breath, difficulty in breathing, and lung disease—for those near fracking sites and workers, some of whom developed permanent lung damage.
“The health risks from fracking are not limited to what’s in our drinking water—oil and gas operations are also poisoning the air we breathe,” said NRDC senior scientist Miriam Rotkin-Ellman. “While industry continues to try to sweep the impacts of fracking under a rug, the science keeps revealing serious health threats—for workers, families living nearby, and entire regions with heavy oil and gas activity.”
The power of the fracking lobby can even prevent your physician from telling you about the dangers of fracking. In Pennsylvania, physicians fought a “medical gag rule” which prevents doctors from telling patients about the dangers of chemicals from fracking. Dr. Alfonso Rodriguez sued to have the gag lifted but lost, evidence of the power of the fracking lobby. Specializing in endocrinology, Rodriguez “has recently treated patients directly exposed to high-volume hydraulic fracturing fluid as the result of well blowouts,” including a patient “with a complicated diagnosis with low platelets, anemia, rash, and acute renal failure that required extensive hemodialysis and exposure to chemotherapeutic agents,” the complaint stated, as quoted by Courthouse News.
While every method of providing energy has its own controversy, America could do a better job of providing clean energy, without imposing carbon taxes on an already burdened public.
Germany apparently supplied 87% of its energy requirement during an ideal time, using only solar and wind, according to a May 11 article in the UK’s Daily Mail.
Germany “hit an incredible new high in renewable energy generation at the weekend—pushing power prices into the negative and allowing consumers to get paid to consume electricity,” reported the Mail. “At one point, the sunny and windy day weather propelling its solar plants and wind turbines supplied 87% of the power being consumed. Germany is one of a handful of European countries leading the charge for clean energy while simultaneously trying to phase out its reliance on fossil fuels.”
Some may recall that Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) could provide enough fossil fuel to provide ample fuel, but drilling at the remote ANWR region was killed by the same Congress and executive branch that finds nothing wrong with fracking.
In what is an astonishing part of forgotten history, Henry Ford used hemp, flax, and soy panels for exterior automobile panels, which were 10 times stronger than steel and substantially lighter, and used plant-ethanol fuel instead of petroleum to power these cars.
Ford told a New York Times reporter in 1925, “The fuel of the future is going to come from fruit like that sumac out by the road, or from apples, weeds, sawdust—almost anything. . . . There is fuel in every bit of vegetable matter that can be fermented. There’s enough alcohol in one year’s yield of an acre of potatoes to drive the machinery necessary to cultivate the fields for a hundred years.”
Had America followed Ford’s advice, how truly great would America be? It’s difficult to fathom a world where America would be completely free of foreign oil and intrigue that now has brought us to be bound to the Middle East, let alone oil-industry practices that put our health in jeopardy.
James Spounias is the president of Carotec Inc., originally founded by renowned radio show host and alternative health expert Tom Valentine and his wife, Carole. To receive a free issue of Carotec Health Report—a monthly newsletter loaded with well-researched and reliable alternative health information—please write Carotec, P.O. Box 9919, Naples, FL 34101 or call 1-800-522-4279. Also included will be a list of the high-quality health supplements Carotec recommends.