There’s been a lot of talk about fracking lately. Hydraulic fracturing is the process used by oil and gas companies to extract natural gas from the earth. Commonly referred to as “fracking,” it involves blasting millions of gallons of water, sand and a proprietary formula of hundreds of chemicals in the ground to break apart layers of rock and release precious natural gases. If you haven’t quite been able to figure out what the eff it has to do with to you, let Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of environmental advocacy group Food Watch, explain:
- Fracking affects water. Fracking chemicals — including hydrochloric acid, ethylene glycol, benzene and formaldehyde — are highly toxic and can leak into drinking water. What’s more, fracking produces tons of wastewater that is difficult to dispose of. Plus, the water required for the process is so great that it could deplete water supplies. “The amount of water that’s used is just obscene,” says Hauter. “We’re talking about millions and millions of gallons of water.”
- Fracking affects crops. If fracking can contaminate drinking water, then it can also pollute the water used in farming. Not only can the chemicals cause soil to become acidic and infertile, but the gases released, like ozone, can hamper crop growth. Rural Wyoming, for example, failed to meet its 2009 federal emissions standards, which many attribute to fracking, Hauter explains. “They recorded higher ozone levels than those in Houston and Los Angeles.”
- Fracking affects livestock. OK, so maybe you’re seeing a theme here. If fracking can pollute drinking water, air and soils, you can be sure it’s not great for livestock either. “Farm animals exposed to fracking fluids get sick or they die,” says Hauter. Recently, 28 beef cattle in Pennsylvania were quarantined after wastewater from a nearby gas well leaked.
- Fracking can hurt small farms. If you knew that your farmers market produce was grown in a contaminated area, would you still buy it? Hauter reckons no. “A lot of people have been really inspired by the local food movement. Farm families are very concerned about whether people are going to want to buy local produce from an area where the water may be polluted.”
- Fracking may be banned where you live. But that doesn’t mean it can’t affect you. Because fracking can contaminate air and water, state laws can’t ensure that your area won’t be impacted by fracking in a neighboring region. “Entire states need to be protected,” says Hauter. “Not just [farming] areas. They wouldn’t be protected from air pollution anyway.”
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