Friday, October 26, 2012

Fracking 101

A recent article released by The Huffington Post ( discusses fracking in the state of Pennsylvania and some of the adverse impacts it is having on people and the environment. For those of you who have not yet heard of fracking, the term is shorthand for hydraulic fracturing. This is a process of drilling down to shale rock which contains natural gas and injecting water, sand, and chemicals in order to force the gas out of the shale and into the head of the well for extraction. The article tells the account of the McIntyre Family in Butler County, Pennsylvania who no longer drink the water piped into their home. Mrs. McIntyre stated that her family currently uses the water strictly for flushing the toilet and nothing more. She also alleges the water has caused her family to suffer health problems including vomiting and skin rashes. A group of 100 people, including the McIntyre family, was recently surveyed by the Oil and Gas Accountability Project at Earthworks, an environmental and public advocacy group based in Washington. A report was released by Earthworks suggesting that fracking has caused widespread water and air pollution and has led to many health problems including sinus, respiratory, and mood problems. One of the major concerns is that fracking activities have expanded quite rapidly, and there has been little time to study the impacts of its long term effects on the environment and people. These concerns are exacerbated by the growing demand for natural gas in the United States which has helped to drive down energy costs. Researcher’s biggest concerns regarding health effects are that there is so little information about how the chemicals and presence of natural gas in water supplies due to fracking adversely affect humans and the environment. Analysts of the science and surveys pertaining to fracking claim that there seems to be a heavy bias on both sides of the battle. While environmental groups urge to back the information that whatever is happening to the environment and people due to fracking is most likely harmful, the supporters of fracking argue that its track record is safe and the process is heavily regulated by applicable law. Earthworks stated that the lackluster government inspection of natural gas well operations, and the lack of imposition of fines for violations, is a loophole in enforcement that is necessary to change the behavior of the drilling companies. The McIntyre family has claimed that drinking bottled water and using a friend’s shower has reduced many of the symptoms affecting their family. They claim that there are still effects coming from the air by the drilling operations including breathing problems and headaches. The McIntyre family is among the 80 percent of survey participants who reported smelling foul odors from the drilling operations. Only time, scientific study, and objective analysis will be able to tell us what impacts fracking will have on the environment and people. Fracking is yet another example of the problems society must confront when engaging in energy, economic and human health policy. -Nick Porta, Legal Intern