Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Battle Between Fracking and Human Health

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a widely growing natural gas collection operation that was first used in the 1940s to retrieve gas from ordinary gas wells. In this process, the rock is drilled while being pumped with water and hundreds of chemicals in order to fracture the rock. Fracturing the rock and filling the cracks with water allows the natural gas to be released and collected. New innovations have been created to improve the efficiency of fracking and these new technologies are being used in many states across the United States, including Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Colorado, California, and North Dakota (Goldenberg). Updated regulations, standards, and management efforts are being imposed for Britain in hopes that fracking will be less of a threat to the environment and humans as compared to fracking in the United States (Goldenberg).
While fracking may have some outward benefits, such as decreasing coal consumption and lowering electricity and heating costs, it also has many negative connotations and threats that come along with it (Goldenberg). The greatest threat from fracking lies in the contamination of the air and ground water surrounding the fracking site. During the fracking operation hundreds of chemicals are pumped into the ground in order to crack the rock (Goldenberg). These chemicals often find their way into nearby water wells, causing contamination of the drinking water used by many residents or they are illegally dumped into waterways by companies (Goldenberg). During the set-up of the operation, the air is often filled with excessive amounts of dust that is full of chemicals as well. Scientists have discovered that many of the 750 chemicals used pose a risk to fertility and developmental growth in humans (Sample). The pollution to the air has been known to cause many respiratory issues such as asthma, difficulty breathing, and lung disease (Kiely). Cancer is also a risk factor of fracking because of the levels of benzene, formaldehyde, diesel particulates, and PAHs that are released into the air during fracking operations. Benzene is also a culprit for blood disorders, such as anemia and bone marrow damage, that can be a result of long-term exposure to the chemical (Kiely).
In local residential studies, many scientists have noted that residents are showing symptoms of coughing, itchy eyes, nosebleeds, and skin rashes (Stannard). Many residents also complain of daily nausea and headaches throughout the entirety of the fracking operation. One resident in Texas even said that she had developed pneumonia three times in an 18 month period following the introduction of fracking wells in her area (Goldenberg). Many researchers have set out to test the drinking water in many residential areas in order to show that these fracking operations are causing the health concerns in these citizens. A study conducted in Pennsylvania in 2012 revealed that one household’s water contained 2-Butoxyethanol (2BE), a chemical commonly used in drilling that has carcinogenic properties in rats (Fleur). The levels were measured in parts per trillion and still considered to be safe, posing no health risk to anyone drinking the water (Fleur).
Globally, fracking adds to the carbon and methane pollution that is motivating the global climate change (Kiely). If fracking operations continue to expand in the United States and other countries around the world, the health concerns and pollution issues will only increase. The United Kingdom has also begun implementing fracking, but in 2011 Lancashire discovered one of the negative geological effects of fracking when two small earthquakes and aftershocks occurred after drilling their first well. Britain’s fracking operations are slightly different than those in the United States because of the difference in geology between the two locations. Britain also regulates the operations and drilling companies are required to monitor the drinking water throughout the entirety of the operation. Despite more regulations, some people are still concerned that the operations could cause contamination and health effects (Goldenberg).
For the people affected by these fracking operations, getting their voice heard has proved to be a very difficult task. Many of the drilling companies deny all claims that their operations are causing detrimental effects to the residents’ health and livelihoods. Many of the companies, such as Devon Energy Corporation, even deny being aware of any residents’ complaints about health problems despite having been present for public meetings where they were accused of causing residential health problems (Goldenberg). Some residents do win their fight against the fracking industry, though, as displayed by three homeowners from Pennsylvania who sued Chesapeake Energy Corporation after they discovered their drinking water was contaminated with natural gas and sediment (Fleur).
Despite all of the negative effects that fracking presents to human health, the industry is continuing to grow. If researchers continue to study the effects that fracking has on the environment, human health, and the climate they may be able to slow down the industry if their findings are supported by larger companies or government agencies. Also, if residents can continue to voice their concerns and present the issues that they are enduring from fracking operations in their areas to local and national representatives, the problem can become more widely known and actions can be taken to reduce, improve the safety of, or even stop the fracking industry. 

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