Fracking Your Water


ExxonMobil Chairman/CEO Rex Tillerson sounded very confident when he told a congressional hearing last year that extracting natural gas by the “hydraulically fractured” process has not led to even one “reported case of a freshwater aquifer having ever been contaminated.”

But drinking water supplies in Pavillion, Wyo., and Dimock, Pa., are suspected of contamination from such drilling and a study by Duke University researchers showed that methane can leak into drinking water near active fracking sites.

The oil companies are backing up their story with an effective ad campaign. Example: ExxonMobil’s ad in the Sept. 19th New Yorker claims existing gas buried deep beneath our water supplies could “meet our needs for over 100 years.”

Besides having “thousands of feet of protective rock between the natural gas deposit and any groundwater” drillers’ install “multiple layers of steel and cement” in shale gas wells to keep the gas “safely within the well,” the ad said. The slurry is made up of sand, water, and chemicals—but drillers don’t have to identify the chemicals.

That’s because in the 2005 energy bill, crafted in part by goodfella Vice-President Dick Cheney, “fracking was explicitly exempted from federal review under the Safe Drinking Water Act,” writes Elizabeth Kolbert in an incisive article in the December 5th “New Yorker.” This exemption, dubbed the “Halliburton Loophole,” does not require drillers to reveal which chemicals they use, so they could be carcinogens such as “benzene and formaldehyde.” Might this be why some irate homeowners say their tap water can be set on fire?

This hasn’t stopped more than 1,000 Pennsylvania and New York property owners from accepting up-front payments (with a pledge of future royalties) to allow drilling,

Even though “as much as forty per cent of (the water used in extraction) can come back up out of the gas wells, bringing with it corrosive salts, volatile organic compounds and radioactive elements, such as radium, ” Kolbert writes.

Pennsylvania has asked drillers to stop taking this flowback water to municipal treatment plants and New York State has ordered a moratorium on fracking permits. And it is seeking to ban fracking in New York City’s upstate watershed.

Says Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, “Once hydrofracturing begins in the (Delaware River) basin, the proverbial ‘faucet’ cannot be turned off, with any damage to our freshwater supplies likely requiring generations of effort to clean up.”

In a letter earlier this year, Tom Curtis, deputy executive director of the American Water Works Assn., called upon the EPA to evaluate every pathway for drinking water contamination and asserted a new study is needed that will cover fracking’s impact on water supply.

“Impacts on existing water resources can only be ascertained by properly designed monitoring programs,” Curtis wrote. “Protecting drinking water should trump everything.”

Indeed. It’s past time for state governments to ban all fracking until additional research finds conclusively it is safe to continue the practice—if it does.

The oil firms are claiming natural gas can satisfy the nation’s energy wants for anywhere from a century to 250 years. No doubt. But wind power, by contrast, is a resource that lasts forever. What’s more, if harnessed,  there’s enough of it blowing in just a couple of Dakota counties to light up the entire USA year-round, and without polluting the water we drink and upon which all life depends.

Sherwood Ross is former administrative assistant to the Chicago Department of Water & Sewers and served as public relations director for the Illinois Section of the American Water Works Assn. His views do not necessarily represent those of AWWA. Reach him at sherwoodross10@gmail.com.

November 30, 2015
Henry Giroux
Trump’s Embrace of Totalitarianism is America’s Dirty Little Secret
Omur Sahin Keyif
An Assassination in Turkey: the Killing of Tahir Elci
Uri Avnery
There is No Such Thing as International Terrorism
Robert Fisk
70,000 Kalashnikovs: Cameron’s “Moderate” Rebels
Jamie Davidson
Distortion, Revisionism & the Liberal Media
Patrick Cockburn
Nasty Surprises: the Problem With Bombing ISIS
Robert Hunziker
The Looming Transnational Battlefield
Ahmed Gaya
Breaking the Climate Mold: Fighting for the Planet and Justice
Matt Peppe
Alan Gross’s Improbable Tales on 60 Minutes
Norman Pollack
Israel and ISIS: Needed, a Thorough Accounting
Colin Todhunter
India – Procession of the Dead: Shopping Malls and Shit
Roger Annis
Canada’s New Climate-Denying National Government
Binoy Kampmark
Straining the Republic: France’s State of Emergency
Bill Blunden
Glenn Greenwald Stands by the Official Narrative
Jack Rasmus
Japan’s 5th Recession in 7 Years
Karen Lee Wald
Inside the Colombia Peace Deal
Geoff Dutton
War in Our Time
Charles R. Larson
Twofers for Carly Fiorina
John Dear
An Eye for an Eye Makes the Whole World Blind
Weekend Edition
November 27-29, 2015
Andrew Levine
The Real Trouble With Bernie
Gary Leupp
Ben Carson, Joseph in Egypt, and the Attack on Rational Thought
John Whitbeck
Who’s Afraid of ISIS?
Michael Brenner
Europe’s Crisis: Terror, Refugees and Impotence
Ramzy Baroud
Forget ISIS: Humanity is at Stake
Pepe Escobar
Will Chess, Not Battleship, Be the Game of the Future in Eurasia?
Vijay Prashad
Showdown on the Syrian Border
Dave Lindorff
Gen. John Campbell, Commander in Afghanistan and Serial Liar
Colin Todhunter
Class, War and David Cameron
Jean Bricmont
The Ideology of Humanitarian Imperialism
Dan Glazebrook
Deadliest Terror in the World: the West’s Latest Gift to Africa
Mark Hand
Escape From New York: the Emancipation of Activist Cecily McMillan
Karl Grossman
Our Solar Bonanza!
Mats Svensson
Madness in Hebron: Hashem Had No Enemies, Yet Hashem Was Hated
Walter Brasch
Terrorism on American Soil
Louisa Willcox
Grizzly Bears, Dreaming and the Frontier of Wonder
Michael Welton
Yahweh is Not Exactly Politically Correct
Joseph Natoli
A Politics of Stupid and How to Leave It Behind
John Cox
You Should Fear Racism and Xenophobia, Not Syrian Refugees or Muslims
Barrie Gilbert
Sacrificing the Grizzlies of Katmai Park: the Plan to Turn Brooks Camp Into a Theme
Rev. William Alberts
The Church of “Something Else” in “an Ecclesiastical Desert”
Andrew Gavin Marshall
Bank Crimes Pay
Elliot Murphy
Cameron’s Syrian Strategy
Thomas S. Harrington
Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe and the Death of Ezra Schwartz
Gareth Porter
How Terror in Paris Calls for Revising US Syria Policy
Michael Perino
The Arc of Instability