What comes to mind when you think of fracking? Perhaps it’s images of tap water being lit on fire or stories of families suffering health problems after nearby wells are fracked. Indeed, the health and environmental impacts of fracking are being documented, but it’s important to know that fracking is a catalyst for widespread negative consequences. This list includes five effects of fracking you may not have heard about.
1. Methane Geysers
This past June, a methane geyser was found in Pennsylvania’s Tioga County. Yes, a geyser — shooting methane-infused water 30 feet up in the air.
Once the geyser was discovered, the county immediately turned to Shell, which was drilling in three nearby locations. Shell and the Department of Environmental Protection began investigating, and it was correctly suspected that an abandoned well from the 1930s contributed to the problem. Last week, a new report confirmed that Butters well, drilled in 1932, was part of the chain reaction that triggered the geyser. But the main problem was Shell’s fracking, as it displaced methane pockets underground, which then moved into Butters well and shot up to the surface.
Improperly abandoned wells, like Butters well, are hard to uncover, as they were drilled long before permits were required or any kind of records were kept. With as many as 300,000 wells drilled in Pennsylvania over the past 150 years, it’s unknown how many abandoned wells there may be that could be dangerous. For example, the DEP informed Shell of Butters well, but there was no information on whether or not it had been plugged. Meanwhile, regulators don’t require drilling companies to search for, inspect and plug abandon wells.
Though abandoned wells provide an easy pathway for methane to reach the earth’s surface, once displaced by fracking, the harmful gas can also make its way upward through cracks in the ground. Methane is an odorless, flammable gas that can cause breathing problems at high concentrations and is more than 20 times more effective in trapping heat and contributing to global warming than carbon dioxide.
2. Stolen Land
What happens if you’re a land owner who lives on a profitable mineral site, but doesn’t want corporations fracking on your land? Well, apparently, they will maneuver a way to frack your land anyway.
In a new report published last week, Reuters explored oil and gas companies’ nationwide land grab. The report focused on Chesapeake Energy Corporation, which has become the leader in petitioning state agencies when land owners refuse to sign over their land to fracking or oil drilling companies. In Texas, since 2005, Chesapeake had made 1,628 requests to drill on land that owners refuse to lease— nearly twice as many sought by its rival Exxon Mobil — and the state has only rejected five of them.
Chesapeake has made land-leasing one of its top priorities, controlling 15 million acres and spending more than $31 billion to acquire drilling rights. Playing the land grab game allows corporations to attain prospective drilling locations while locking out competition. With such a profitable opportunity, Chesapeake is making sure it’s getting its way by any means necessary. One employee was even caught saying on tape: “If properties don't want to sign, if we have 90 percent secured of the well that we need, we have the power to put these people in the lease without their permission. …We can do whatever we want.”
When it comes to profit, property rights just don’t seem to matter. And a mix of money in politics, as well as a desire for profit, has weakened regulation.
"I don't think the state should be able to take a landowner's rights to generate a profit for a private company," said David Conrad, an Ohio resident who opposes fracking, but will soon have a Chesapeake well under his home.
However, as Reuters reported:
In its petition, Chesapeake told regulators its proposed drilling unit could produce 4.5 million barrels of oil and 3.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas — if the plots of the 49 land owners who didn't lease their property to Chesapeake were included.
If not, Chesapeake said, the unit would be 75 percent less productive and would miss out on an additional $71 million in revenue, according to its application. That math carried the day.
3. Waste-Filled Wine
If you don’t hate fracking already, what if you learned that it can affect wine? Furious? Me too.
Vineyard owners in California are growing increasingly wary of fracking as gas companies begin preliminary operations. Venoco has started exploring Monterey Shale for both oil and gas drilling. Last year, the company filed an application for drilling permits in Monterey County, according to Simon Salinas, a member of the county’s Board of Supervisors, and it already holds hundreds of thousands of acres in the formation, has drilled more than 20 wells and has invested $100 million in oil exploration.
With vineyards and farmlands covering 200,000 acres of Monterey that help make up an $8 billion agricultural business, Salinas told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “Anything that can taint our water and food supply could be devastating to our economy.”
Paula Getzelman, a grape-grower in Monterey, said, “If you don't have a good water supply, your land is worthless.”
Besides fears of contaminated water, Salinas also mentioned that when residents realize the fracking process uses millions of gallons of water that they need for their crops, they will be quite upset.
But even if these threats don’t come to fruition, residents are still concerned that fracking will have a negative effect on their marketability. After all, with cities like Napa and Sonoma not too far away, who’s going to want Monterey’s fracking wine?
Across the country, in Brooklyn, NY, a winery with similar fears about fracking in the Marcellus shale, recently hosted an anti-fracking benefit.
The winery stated on its Web site:
The potential for fracking affects Brooklyn Winery, as we source grapes for our wine from a number of vineyards in New York state and many of our wine bar’s seasonal menu items include ingredients grown on upstate farms.
4. Dairy Cows At Risk
Got milk? Maybe not for long. According to research from Penn State University, fracking has been found to reduce dairy production.
The university researchers set out to uncover how fracking in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale region is affecting dairy farming, the state’s top agricultural sector. The researchers examined dairy cow numbers, milk production and fracking activity among various counties in Pennsylvania between 2007 and 2010. They found that counties with 150 or more Marcellus Shale wells saw a 19 percent decrease in dairy cows, while counties with no wells saw only a 1.2 percent decrease. In a similar fashion, milk production in these counties with 150 or more wells declined by an average of 18.5 percent, while counties with no wells had about a 1 percent decline.
This research seems to challenge the popular narrative that farmers use the money they receive from fracking companies through leasing their land to improve their farms. The researchers note that additional research is needed to figure out the exact cause of the decrease of dairy production. One researcher wondered whether farmers were taking the money they received from their leases and going into a new occupation, or if they are being forced out of farming due to fracking’s environmental effects or a decrease in their farm’s marketability.
5. Contaminated Food, Stillborn Calves and Poisoned Animals
Imagine fracking fluid seeping out of your next burger — not appetizing? It may be a reality as more and more livestock are raised near fracking sites. Hundreds of animals have already been affected after coming into contact with fracking fluid. Last year, 28 beef cattle in Pennsylvania were exposed to the fluid. Only three of the 11 calves these cattle gave birth to survived. In Louisiana a few years ago, 16 cows dropped dead after drinking fracking fluid.
As New York Governor Cuomo soon decides whether or not to frack in the state’s economically struggling areas, Rita Yelda of Food & Water Watchrecently wrote a commentary urging him to consider fracking’s detrimental effects on food.
New York is a national leader in a variety of agricultural products, and about 25 percent of the state’s land area is used for food production. This space may end up being shared with thousands of air polluting drill rigs, and could also be affected by soil contamination from leaks, flares, explosions, fires and experimental waste disposal methods.
Definitely doesn’t sound delicious.