Fracking’s Dirty Little Secrets

By:  Lindsay Sementelli

Hello!  I’m Lindsay Sementelli, Priscilla’s co-blogger.  After a few months of learning from Priscilla, understanding the topics that she is so passionate about and getting more comfortable here, I’ll now be posting sometimes too, so please keep an eye out for future entries from us both.  Let’s get started with my first topic!

Fracking (also known as hydraulic fracturing) sounds more like a dirty word than a method of using water and drilling down first vertically at least one mile and then horizontally, often over thousands of feet, into rock formations to extract resources like oil and natural gas from the earth.  That is because in reality, it truly is dirty!  Proponents of fracking praise the practice for an increase in oil and natural gas production in the United States for 65 years and counting.  There are claims that fracking practices in the United States are safe and will cause a boom in energy production, but many scientists and researchers are conducting studies that prove otherwise.

As one might imagine, fracking is a highly contested practice.  Some of the possible harms associated with fracking practices are disputed because oddly enough, there aren’t many solid laws in place that hold fracking companies accountable for producing or reporting harmful waste products, as well as for disclosing what toxic substances may be used in the process itself.  However, the state of California is leading the way in creating protective laws as well as uncovering what lies within fracking wastewater.  While California alone is just a small sample of the United States, we can draw the conclusion that these findings are reflective of what is happening in and around fracking sites nationwide.

As far as we can tell, California’s aquifers for drinking water have not yet been affected.  It is hard to believe this will continue, considering that fracking wastewater in the state has been found to contain extremely harmful substances such as “petroleum chemicals, heavy metals and radioactive elements, plus high levels of dissolved solids,” substances that are known carcinogens and reproductive health hindrances, and “thousands of times more radioactive radium than the state’s public health goals consider safe, as well as elevated levels of potentially harmful ions such as nitrate and chloride.” (Source: Check out this article for even more findings and many great links for further reading too!)  Keep in mind though, that this doesn’t necessarily mean drinking water isn’t already being infected elsewhere.

Supporters of fracking are quick to deny any negative environmental side effects, seemingly while focusing only on the monetary benefits of the practice or how the resources gleaned can benefit humans.  Since what we do to the environment will eventually circle back to us, it is hard to believe that the risks will outweigh the benefits in the long run.  Now that we’re becoming aware of fracking’s dirty and not-so-little after all side effects, we can’t just sweep the whole practice under the rug and only focus on the positives.  We can’t just sit back as it wreaks more havoc on the environment and act like its negative results are mistakes we had no way of predicting or preventing.  We as humans have the ability to speak out against practices that we know are harmful, but there are so many other living things we are sharing this world with that are being blindsided by their effects.  It needs to become our job to speak up for the voiceless, and research involving animals is helping us to see why.

Let’s start with an occurrence that may seem a bit obvious:  the disappearance of fish where wastewater from fracking gets dumped.  This is one of the most blatant suggestions that this water is no longer fit to support life, and this is a great call for more of our attention.  You may think this does not affect you if you aren’t directly using water from these infected sources on a daily basis, but think twice!  Whether you own or work on a farm, have pets in your family, or are just an animal lover, their consumption of this water trickles down through them to you; if you are buying and consuming meat or raising livestock for a living, you definitely need to be concerned about animals taking in these waste products.  In her article “No Fraccident:  How Animals Are Hurt By Fracking,” Kate Good describes the alarming findings of Professor Robert Oswald and veterinarian Michelle Bamberger, who took a direct and hands-on approach to studying the effects of wastewater consumption on livestock in six states where fracking occurs.  According to the article:

A farmer separated his herd of cows into two groups: 60 were in a pasture with a creek where hydrofracking wastewater was allegedly dumped; 36 were in separate fields without creek access. Of the 60 cows exposed to the creek water, 21 died and 16 failed to produce calves the following spring. None of the 36 cows in separated fields had health problems, though one cow failed to breed in the spring.

Another farmer reported that 140 of his cows were exposed to hydrofracking fluid when wastewater impoundment was allegedly slit, and the fluid drained into a pasture and a pond. “These farmers saw workers slitting the liner to decrease the amount of liquid in the impoundment in order to refill it,” said Bamberger. “We have heard it now on several occasions.” Of the 140 cows, about 70 died, and there were high incidences of stillborn and stunted calves.

These are only two of the twenty four cases studied by Oswald and Bamberger—for Kate Good’s full article, visit, where you will also find a link to more information on their studies.

As you may have heard in many a science class, it’s true that correlation does not equal causation.  However, these results seem pretty damning against fracking and its waste products.  Of course, the issue of wastewater consumption by both humans and animals is just the tip of a huge iceberg of problems surrounding fracking.  That’s why it’s a relief to learn that the state of New York has banned the practice altogether.  This is a great start that is taking place closer to home for me, but we still have so far to go.  The first step for each of us is becoming informed and educated and making our voices heard!  If you seek out the truth and are alarmed by what you find, make sure to spread the word.


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