As use of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) expands across the nation, many have questioned its value in relation to the damage that it causes to the environment and the risks it poses to public health. Those fears have been vindicated in a new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report confirming that fracking contaminates drinking water. On top of that, heavy fracking in states like Oklahoma have been literally triggering earthquakes that are stronger and more frequent than previously endured.
In Pennsylvania, over 234 private drinking wells have found to be contaminated with methane gas and other toxic heavy metals, in addition to those that simply went dry or were rendered entirely undrinkable. In New Mexico, chemicals from fracking pits have contaminated water sources over 421 times; Colorado has reported over 340 leaks or spills from toxic wastewater pits.
The exponential growth of the fracking industry has left many states unprepared to deal with the consequences. Pennsylvania’s Inspector-General found that the rapid expansion of the industry “caught the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) unprepared to effectively administer laws and regulations to protect drinking water and unable to efficiently respond to citizen complaints.” The chemicals pumped into the ground to forcibly release the gas contained within it are exempt from federal disclosure laws, so citizens are left unaware of just what chemical brew is being pumped into their drinking water.
Fracking wells also contribute heavily to the drought conditions prevalent across the Southwest United States. Each well requires two to nine million gallons of water, and have turned over 250 billion gallons of freshwater into poisonous and occasionally radioactive wastewater since 2005. In one Texas county afflicted by drought, fracking accounted for one-third of all water usage, leaving some towns entirely without water. Frackers continue to guzzle water of of aquifers in Texas, where nearly fifteen million people live under some form of water rationing.
The effect on traditional Texas farmers has been crippling. “Ranchers dumped most of their herds. Cotton farmers lost up to half their crops. The extra draw down, coupled with drought, made it impossible for local ranchers to feed and water their herds”, says local farmer Buck Owens, from Barnhart, TX, a town which entirely ran out of water.
Local citizens are not pleased with the excesses of the fracking industry, but Republican legislators don’t care. Governor Greg Abbot recently signed a bill banning local towns from attempting to regulate fracking or ban it entirely, in a complete flip-flop on the usual rhetoric about “small government”. Oklahoma has followed suit, despite the 300% increase in earthquakes.
Republican governors and legislators have turned over our lands, both public and private, to the fossil fuel industry, leaving them to rape the environment as they will, to poison our drinking water and leave us thirsty, no matter that cost to our businesses and livelihoods. It is long past time we dealt with these atrocities and put limits on the amount of our water that fossil fuel companies can use, force them to pay to clean up their own messes, and to take away the colossal subsidies which lets them make off with billions in profits.
Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.