Dexter Perkins: Fracking poses serious health, environmental risksIn his recent op-ed, Chris Faulkner told us that unconventional oil development — especially fracking — in western North Dakota is great for our state and country and poses no risks (“All benefit at very little cost: That’s fracking,” Page A4, May 10).
By: Dexter Perkins, Grand Forks Herald
GRAND FORKS — In his recent op-ed, Chris Faulkner told us that unconventional oil development — especially fracking — in western North Dakota is great for our state and country and poses no risks (“All benefit at very little cost: That’s fracking,” Page A4, May 10).
But many countries have banned fracking. Vermont and other states have banned it, and so have many towns.
These bans are not because of public hysteria nor are they part of a radical environmental agenda, as Faulkner claims. And Faulkner, who runs an oil-and-gas company, has ignored many facts that contradict his ideas. Let’s review some:
n A major problem is that unconventional oil and gas extraction is new. Development has been rapid, there are few state and federal reporting requirements or regulations, and fracking is exempted from the Clean Water Act.
So, there is no historical record, and much information about current operations is not public.
Although we don’t have long term studies about the effects of fracking, we do know about the downside of the oil and gas industry in general. The industry sometimes is responsible for health problems, pollution, loss of the quality of life, is a primary cause of global warming and has many worker safety issues.
Financial problems arise for individuals, towns, and states. There are also many larger ecological problems.
n Fracking has been the key to North Dakota’s energy boom. The technology allows impermeable rock to be made permeable, and so provide an oil source.
A single well involves high-pressure injection of up to 10 million gallons of water mixed with sand. The mixtures may contain 300 tons of additional hazardous and nonhazardous chemicals.
Of the hundreds of chemicals used, more than 75 percent have been found to affect human gastrointestinal systems, livers, brains and nervous systems.
Much of the fluid returns to the surface and is stored in open ponds. So, risks to health occur before drilling starts and continue long after, and include air and water pollution, noise pollution, increased truck traffic, occupational hazards and stress to people living nearby in ranches or in towns.
n Fracking contributes to air pollution. Methane, benzene and other pollutants increase, and serious ozone problems show up. Even in North Dakota, our very limited monitoring system has picked up ozone problems downwind of our oil fields.
In North Dakota, we flare methane, adding nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, soot, dust and other pollutants to the air. In this way, we wasted more than 83 billion cubic feet of gas in 2012 while seriously lessening air quality.
n Methane and other chemicals also cause groundwater pollution. In Pennsylvania and New York, researchers have found nearly a 20 times increase in methane and other contaminants in water wells near fracking areas. This risks explosions such as the one that occurred in Geauga County, Ohio, in 2007.
In Dimcock, Pa, pollutants from nearby oil wells were found present in more than 60 home water wells. In other parts of Pennsylvania, contamination between 2008 and 2012 was so bad that oil and gas companies had to provide alternative water sources for hundreds of homes.
In Pavillion, Wyo., benzene, xylene and other related compounds were found in drinking water near fracking areas. In Parker County, Texas, methane, benzene, toluene, ethane, propane and hexane contaminants have been traced to oil and gas wells.
All these toxics cause cancer, neurotoxicity and reproductive problems in people and in livestock.
Opinions vary, but some people say that unconventional energy resources are critical to supplying U.S. energy in the future. If so, all associated problems need to be considered. Ignoring them ensures that western North Dakota will be nothing more than a national sacrifice area.
When expanding the use of an unconventional technology such as fracking, it’s vital that we be cautious and careful — for the sake of our land, our health and our children.
Perkins is a professor in the UND Department of Geology and Geological Engineering.