What the “frack” are we doing to our environment?

Not long ago, I watched Gasland, a documentary about a process called hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking.  The process involves pumping a toxic mixture of more than 500 chemicals into the ground in order to fracture shale causing it release the oil and gas trapped in underground pockets.  The chemicals are then pumped back out of the wells and separated from the oil and gas.  The process is all the rage among oil and gas companies.  And it’s being hyped as a way to decrease America’s dependency on foreign oil.

Of course, there’s a catch.

You see, many of the chemicals are known carcinogens, including benzenes.  And even though a large percentage of the chemicals are “recovered,” a substantial quantity enters underground aquifers which supply drinking water for many of our citizens.  In some cases, the oil and gas companies have even dumped the “recovered” chemicals into streams and rivers.  (Hmmm, maybe that explains some of the mysterious fish kills of last summer.)

In addition, the process often results in natural gas being released into the aquifers.  (You may recall seeing videos of people actually lighting the water from their faucets on fire.) When the chemicals are pumped into the shale deposits under high pressure, they create a mishmash of toxic chemicals, pulverized shale, natural gas, oil and water flowing underground only to be pumped to the surface as drinking water for humans and animals, including the livestock we depend on for food.

To make matters worse, the extraction process requires that water must be removed from the gas wells in order for the gas to flow to the surface.  In 2008, just one company pumped 3,563,469,824 gallons of water from its wells in Las Animas County, Colorado – enough water to serve all of the families in the county for 5.46 years!

Finally, there’s evidence that the fracking process may actually result in earthquakes and tremors.But none of that seems to matter to the oil and gas companies.  After all, there are billions of dollars of oil and gas trapped in shale deposits under New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and throughout the West.  Who cares if it’s bad for the environment?  Who cares if we’re poisoning our citizens?  There’s almost nothing the EPA or the courts can do about it.  Not since good ol’ “W” and Cheney pushed through legislation to exempt the oil and gas industry from the Clean Water Act.