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Blog Posts: Fracking

August 28th, 2014

How the Fracking Industry Undermines Labor

By Sydney Baldwin, Ryanne Waters and Katherine Cirullo

Is there a salary worth risking your health or even your life? Big Oil and Gas might think so, but the ex-industry workers with whom we spoke aren’t so convinced.

Today, Food & Water Watch released Toxic Workplace: Fracking Hazards on the Job, a research brief that exposes the dangers of working in the fracking industry. Subject to long hours on the job, sloppy safety regulations and reporting, lack of injury compensation and close contact with hazardous chemicals, former industry laborers agree that the fracking workplace is a toxic one. As we reflect on the social and economic successes of the labor movement over this holiday weekend, it becomes more evident that the fracking industry may have missed the memo.

The practice of hydraulic fracturing involves drilling down to a targeted rock formation and injecting large volumes of water, sand and toxic chemicals at extreme pressure to create fractures in the rock and release tightly held oil and gas. The chemicals used in the fracking process can cause cancer and damage the nervous system, immune and cardiovascular systems and upset the endocrine system.

At the site, workers can be exposed to volatile organic compounds, including benzene and toluene, as well as fugitive methane, which are often released during fracking and can mix with nitrogen oxide emissions from diesel-fueled vehicles and stationary equipment to form ground-level ozone. Workers can also be exposed to silica sand, which is often used in the fracking process, and is a known human carcinogen. Long term exposure to silica, a component that makes up as much as 99 percent of frac sand, increases the likelihood of developing silicosis, which damages lung tissue and inhibits lungs function. Breathing it can make a person more susceptible to tuberculosis and is also associated with autoimmune disorders and kidney disease.

Randy Moyer, who used to work for the fracking industry as a subcontractor and dealt with shale gas wastewater, told us how he experienced first-hand the horrible effects of dealing with fracking chemicals and radioactive wastewater. He claims that the consequences of spending countless hours on the site included painful rashes, itching, sores and swelling of organs. “When I first got the rash, it was so bad; it’s like being on fire, and nobody can put you out,” Randy said.

To make matters worse, those on the frontlines risking their health and safety each day for the fracking industry are rarely compensated for any health problems they experience. Randy explained that he is going on 35 months without compensation or medical coverage for over twenty emergency room visits and a myriad of doctors’ appointments. “They basically put me out on my own,” he said.

In addition to exposure to harsh chemicals and radiation, workers also have to combat the every day dangers of working on the site, such as precarious equipment and long hours of strenuous work. As a result, the oil and gas industry’s fatality rate is 6.5 times the national average. From 2003-2012, 26 in 100,000 people died while working in the oil and gas industry; the national average for all U.S. jobs is four fatalities in 100,000.

fracking worker safety chart

“As they exploit their own workers, the oil and gas industry is always quick to tout the so-called ‘economic benefits’ of fracking,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “But what good are jobs that injure workers and rob them of their health? We cannot stand by and allow the industry to profit from the exploitation of its labor force. The experiences of these workers illustrates that fracking is a toxic process through and through.”

With such high risks associated with working in the industry, those contracted to work in this dangerous field should be given extensive safety training and be fully educated in the types of conditions and chemicals they work with. However, Randy explained that workers were prohibited from raising these concerns about unknown chemicals and exposure on the job. “You aren’t allowed to even talk about it; if you talk about it, you’re gone.” He went on to explain the mentality of the industry, “If you don’t know, your company doesn’t know, your workers will never know, because you’re not allowed to discuss any of this on pads or they will fire you.”

To make matters worse, many oil and gas companies offer incentives to encourage laborers not to report safety accidents or file workers’ compensation claims in order to make themselves look good, but this distorts safety statistics.

Frequent accidents are swept under the rug by well site supervisors and company executives to protect profits. Thirty-year veteran of the fracking industry and former master driller, Lee McCaslin explained that previously injured or killed workers had written the job safety training in blood. “I walked around with a broken toe, a broken rib, you now, to get to the safety pad at the end of the hall to get that extra $57 we got for our safety award. I don’t know if it was worth the suffering,” Lee said. “Even our bosses knew that we were injured, but as long as we had no reporting of an accident, the whole crew was viable for those bonuses,” he said.

Allowing overly exhausted workers to operate and maintain heavy drilling machinery in such dangerous conditions without any consideration for safety is common practice in the fracking industry. Many accidents occurring in the fracking industry stem from the irregular and long work hours. Lee McCaslin recalled working fourteen-hour days. “The hours are just enough to put you into a state of being where you walk around like a zombie half of the time.”

This is clearly an industry that places no value in the safety, or even lives, of their workers. “You’re expendable to the industry. There is always someone else to come fill that seat,” Randy quipped.

When asked what he would say to someone trying to work in the fracking industry, Randy stated, “This will ruin your health. It takes a very small amount of this to do it. If you value your health, you won’t even get close to it.” As Lee reflects on his time as an industry laborer, he claims “I’m grateful for my life today.” No one should fear for his or her life at work, but unfortunately, this is the reality that oil and gas industry workers face on a daily basis.

Update, August 29: Preliminary field studies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) find that workers in the oil and gas industry can be exposed to higher than recommended levels of benzene.

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August 22nd, 2014

Calling on Congress to Protect Public Lands from Becoming Private Profit

By Wenonah Hauter #saveourparks from fracking

When you imagine your family vacation, do drilling rigs or the roar of wastewater tankers rumbling down a forest service road immediately come to mind? Unfortunately, with the Obama administration’s proposed rules for drilling and fracking on federal lands, our treasured national lands may begin to resemble this grim image. Read the full article…

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August 7th, 2014

Frackopoly: Documenting the Movement to Fight Fracking

Wenonah Hauter, Mark Ruffalo and activists rally to ban fracking.

Wenonah Hauter, Mark Ruffalo and activists rally to ban fracking.

By Wenonah Hauter

Writing a book is both a daunting and energizing experience. My first book Foodopoly took months of research (helped by many here at Food & Water Watch) and sheer discipline. But the payoff was great: I was able to tour the country and meet people who are concerned about the state of our food and the state of our politics, and I felt palpably that the work of Food & Water Watch is necessary and making a difference by building a movement of concerned citizen activists to become politicized to protect our essential resources from corporate control.

What Is Fracking?
  • Inherently unsafe, fracking is short for hydraulic fracturing. It’s a water-intensive process where millions of gallons of fluid are injected underground at high pressure to fracture the rock surrounding an oil or gas well. This releases extra oil and gas from the rock, so it can flow into the well.
  • Sign the petition to ban fracking.

Now, I’m back in the trenches of research and writing with my follow-up book. A true tale of corruption and greed, Frackopoly: The Battle for the Future of Energy and the Environment looks at how a powerful citizen-led movement is making progress fighting one of the biggest and most powerful industries in the world on one of the most pressing environmental issues of our time: fracking. In preparation for the book, I am interviewing people in affected communities across the country who have had their well water contaminated with methane; their health impacted; their air polluted; and the value of their homes destroyed.

As I’m starting to wrap up the book, I’m feeling excited about what lies ahead, and what the book represents. It’s a story of what’s possible and ultimately, what will save our democracy: engaged citizens, impacted by an issue in their backyards, in a fight for their lives and making a difference.

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August 6th, 2014

Germany’s Environment Agency Calls for an End to Fracking

By Geert Decock

Fracking rig and wastewater pit

How far do you need to sit from the halls of power to not be influenced by constant lobbying and spin from Big Oil & Gas? The correct answer may be surprising: 1.5 hours exactly. How so? That is how long it takes to drive from the office of German Chancellor Angela Merkel in central Berlin to the Federal Environment Agency of Germany in Desslau-Rosslau, southwest of Berlin.

Just last week, the Federal Environment Agency released a 600+ page report giving a detailed outline of the many risks involved in fracking. This research led its president Maria Krautzberger to this conclusion (translated from German): “Fracking is and remains a risky technology and therefore requires considerable limits to protect the environment and health. As long as the significant risks involved in this technology cannot yet be predicted with certainty and controlled, there should be no fracking in Germany to extract shale gas and coalbed methane.”

Her warning stands in sharp contrast with the approach of other European governments, e.g. in the UK and Poland, who have put large swaths of their territory up for grabs for shale gas exploration companies. Given the serious water-related risks of fracking, the German Federal Environment Agency states clearly that a lot of areas should be exempted from fracking: drinking water protection zones, spa areas, nature reserves and the catchment areas of lakes and reservoirs.

The report of the Federal Environment Agency also clearly confirms something that anti-fracking campaigners have been saying for years, namely that the treatment of the flowback from shale gas wells remains an unresolved issue. (Flowback is the liquid that flows back to the surface when a well is fracked.) The flowback contains heavy metals and aromatic hydrocarbons like benzene. Sometimes, radioactive materials can also flow to the surface. Again, president Maria Krautzberger: “No company has been able to offer a concept for the sustainable water treatment of flowback from fracking operations”.

What about industry’s oft repeated talking point that natural gas can be a transition fuel to a zero-carbon power generation? Again, the German Federal Environment Agency begs to differ with those who link shale gas and the fight against climate change: “The fracking technology is not a miracle cure for climate protection that can make the transition to renewable energies easier. It would be better, if our country would concentrate on forms of energy that are demonstrably better for the environment, such as renewable energies”.

The Germans are well known for their ‘Gründlichkeit’, or thoroughness. If their environment agency makes such strong claims about the risks of fracking after a couple of years of research, we better take their findings seriously!

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August 4th, 2014

Reaching for the Stars in Colorado’s Battle Against Fracking

By Scott Edwards

Scott Edwards, co-director of the Food & Water Justice project

Earlier this month, in a decision that can only further galvanize the push for local control of fracking in Colorado, a state court held that a democratically enacted fracking ban was invalid because it conflicted with the state’s interests in promoting mineral development. The people of the city of Longmont overwhelmingly passed the ban in 2012 after deciding that they did not want to live their lives and raise their children under the ongoing threats to health and the environment posed by this irresponsible method of mineral extraction.  The Longmont ban has helped spur the anti-fracking fight across the country, in no small part because it was achieved in the face of incredible odds: the industry spent nearly half-a-million dollars to defeat the measure and Colorado’s Governor threatened to sue any community that banned fracking.

Despite these intimidation tactics, Longmont’s citizens voted for the ban knowing full well the uphill battle they faced in Colorado’s courts.  Unlike New York, a state where no fracking currently exists and where courts recently upheld the long-established rights of local communities to enact local land use controls on industrial activities like fracking, the Colorado legislature and courts have spent the last several decades actively handing the state over to the oil and gas industry with little regard for the rights of citizens and the health and safety of local communities. Even Colorado’s current Democratic governor, John Hickenlooper, is an ex-employee of the oil and gas industry who likes to boast that he drank fracking fluid. Coloradans are living with a fracking fiasco that hopefully New York never sees.

The politicians’ ongoing effort to grease the skids for oil and gas development has resulted in an industry free-for-all in Colorado. There are over 52,000 active fracking wells in Colorado, with Hickenlooper’s agency approving an average of 4,000 new permits each year.  This proliferation of wells has led to over 2,000 spills in the last 5 years, of which nearly 200 have impacted groundwater—now spills have reached a rate of 2 per day. Coloradans have reported experiencing terrible health impacts from living near wells and precipitous drops in their property values. A recent study showed that nearby proximity to oil and gas drilling, including fracking,was associated with a greater incidenceof birth defects in Colorado.

It is against this oppressive backdrop that the heroic citizens of Longmont and the lawyers who represented them in court have been fighting their ongoing battle to save their communities. And it’s a battle that continues even with the decision to preempt the Longmont ban because even the court seemed to recognize that it’s time for to revisit whether the interests of oil and gas should continue to take precedent over the health and safety of local communities and citizens of Colorado. In its finding, the court stated:

Longmont and the environmental groups, the Defendant-Intervenors, are essentially asking this Court to establish a public policy that favors protection from health, safety, and environmental risks over the development of mineral resources. Whether public policy should be changed in that manner is a question for the legislature or a different court.

Tellingly, the court also left the fracking ban in place until the people of Longmont have had a chance to file their appeal and seek the change needed to protect their towns and their residents.

One of the legal arguments Longmont made in its case to ban fracking was that a ban did not conflict with an Oil and Gas Conservation Act that makes no mention of fracking, but does demand that oil and gas be developed “in a manner consistent with protection of public health, safety, and welfare, including protection of the environment and wildlife resources.”Although the court ultimately disagreed, its open invitation to appeal while maintaining the ban leaves Longmont positioned to reverse the misguided state policy of placing industry’s financial interests over those of citizens’ health.

Some have suggested that Longmont may have reached too far in banning fracking, that land use approaches would have been an easier fight. But that suggestion ignores the depth of control oil and gas has in Colorado. A 2002 state court case held that it’s the state that determines oil and gas land use restrictions like setbacks, noise abatement, and visual impacts, not local governments who are preempted from enacting more protective standards. It also ignores the fact that new land use laws generally allow for existing nonconforming uses to continue. Since there’s no fracking in NY, that preexisting use doctrine doesn’t present the problem it does in an already-fracked Longmont.

The fact is, when it comes to stopping fracking in Colorado, there is no easy fight. Longmont’s fracking ban is a reach, but it’s a reach for the stars; advocates who are fighting for their very futures should never reach any lower. Thanks to the people of Longmont, there is still now, nearly two years after its passage, a fracking ban in place in a state in which oil and gas is king (and governor). And there’s now a chance, while the Longmont case moves into higher courts and fractivists across the state rally to fight for additional local bans and moratoria, statewide ballot initiatives and constitutional amendments, to bring to Colorado what New Yorkers and some others across the country have enjoyed for years – the right to determine the rights and futures of their communities and to live free from contamination caused by reckless oil and gas extraction.  It’s a fight we should all be applauding.

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July 25th, 2014

The Floating Catastrophe

By Sydney Baldwin 

Our nation’s waterways are at risk to become the new highways for dangerous fracking waste. The U.S. Coast Guard has proposed the opening of the Ohio River, and other major waterways, as a route for shale gas extraction wastewater. If approved, the fracking waste barges pose a hazard to all those who drink and live near these waterways.

GreenHunter Resources, Inc. is seeking permission to build a barge dock that could accommodate roughly 105,000,000 gallons of fracking waste at once. A facility of this size could endanger contiguous ecosystems and communities. Almost 686 million gallons of fracking wastewater was dumped in Ohio last year alone, in which half came from out of state sites. If approved, the new proposals could eventually transform Ohio into a fracking wasteland. 

Proponents argue that barging the waste is a safer alternative to transporting it by truck or railway. However, the quantity of chemical waste could wreak havoc on communities nearby and downstream for months, even years, if there were a mishap. Read the full article…

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July 24th, 2014

Martin O’Malley: Asleep at the Wheel

By Mitch Jones

Photo CC-BY © Office of the Maryland Governor/Flickr.com

Yesterday, Maryland residents had a rare opportunity to speak directly to Governor Martin O’Malley about their concerns regarding the proposed liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facility at Cove Point. Too bad for them Gov. O’Malley couldn’t be bothered to stay awake to listen.

According to a story in The Daily Record, Gov. O’Malley fell asleep while listening to testimony from his constituents. When questioned about it, the Governor’s staff claimed he was “listening intently” and is “only human.” While it’s certainly true that Gov. O’Malley is only human – maybe all too human – the article hints at the reason he may have such a hard time staying awake when at an official event. The governor’s been busy traveling around the country testing the waters for a possible run for the White House. Meanwhile, he’s been asleep at the wheel when it comes to protecting Marylanders from factory farms and fracking.

It seems that the governor would rather travel the country pursuing his own agenda and interests than do his job and listen to his constituents. Of course, his staff claimed he “gave wide latitude to opponents and proponents to speak their minds” as though it is somehow the business of the governor to tell his constituents what they can say to him. The arrogance is astounding in someone seeking to sell himself to residents of other states – or at least Iowa and New Hampshire.

Maybe if he spent more time in Maryland listening to the concerns of his constituents, he’d be able to stay awake while fulfilling his duties. Has he checked out this much? Maybe he needs to take his band O’Malley’s March on an extended tour and leave the governing of the state to someone who can be bothered to stay awake.

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July 18th, 2014

Missing the Forest AND the Trees

By Ron Zucker

pollution tradingWe all know about climate change. We know that the planet is getting hotter and that, though the U.S. has about 4.5 percent of the world’s population, it produces almost 20 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. And we know that we are well on the way to blowing past the two degrees Celsius of warming that the nations of the world agreed to.

Despite this, a new a study commissioned by the UN fails to present a plan that could really address the problem. In fact, the report buys into the failed experiments of fracking and nuclear power. It even fails to consider keeping the carbon in the ground in the first place. Yet even this failed attempt shines a light on the failure of the Obama Administrations most recent proposal, the comically insufficient market-driven “Carbon Rule.”

The report, produced by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI), challenged teams in each of the world’s 15 major economic nations to come up with a way to reduce emissions for that nation to 1.6 tons per person of carbon and carbon equivalents. The idea was to give them freedom to think through the issues and come up with a development plan.

The final product failed to hit its targets.

If we implemented every plan submitted, we’d only get down to about 2.3 tons per person. While this is a far cry from the 22.22 tons currently emitted per person in the U.S., or even the 11 tons emitted per capita in the EU, it is still about 44 percent higher than the goal. Worse, in part because we’ve offloaded so much of our industrial production to China, the team from China was unable to get down below 3.4 tons per person by midcentury, more than double the per capita goal in the world’s most populous country.

The report offers little to those hoping for real changes that might forestall climate change. The U.S. team continues to rely on the oil and gas industry to provide electricity and transportation. Indeed, even under its most optimistic projections, it thinks that fossil fuels will still be providing almost half of our “primary energy” in 2050. It is a mark of the desperation of planners to believe that the energy companies that have exploited our common resources with dangerous deep sea oil exploration and tragic fracking plans, while opposing research and development of renewable energy alternatives, will become the stewards of the earth who will clean up our planet.

The plan also depends on the unproven technology of “carbon capture and storage,” (CCS) the idea that we can capture the carbon from burning fossil fuels and artificially shove it back into the ground or ocean without it leaking or damaging the planet. While CCS has long been the dream of the fossil fuel community, as it will let them continue business as usual, it has so far been a promise rather than a reality.

The U.S. team foresees a major increase in nuclear power generation, providing at least 30 percent, and potentially up to 60 percent, of our electricity load. Remember that the plan foresees a significant increase in electricity for transportation, so this is a major uptick in nuclear energy.

All in all, the plan has significant flaws. Nonetheless, it is instructive in one important way. It underscores just how insufficient the Obama administration’s proposed power rule is.

Where this plan rejects switching dirty coal for fracked natural gas as the go-to fuel for electric generation, the EPA’s plan expressly expands the use of natural gas. This reliance on fracking consigns U.S. environmental standards to the natural gas industry and locks our future energy development into fossil fuels. Though it seems obvious to most of us, the EPA still does not understand that the way out of an environmental crisis caused by fossil fuels cannot be continued reliance on fossil fuels.

Worse, the target for the EPA’s plan is woefully inadequate. Even if completely enacted and actually successful, a proposition about which we have significant doubts, the Administration’s proposal retains levels above 1990 levels in 2030, instead of aiming for the target of 15-40 percent below 1990 carbon emissions by 2020.

Incremental change is the watchword all too often in Washington. This new U.N. report shows that incremental change isn’t nearly enough. That alarm is good, but the plan still relies too much on nuclear power and dangerous fracking. The only safe place for the carbon is in the ground. The way to achieve that is real investment in renewable energy, in alternatives to fracking and fossil fuels, and real regulation to force industry to stop polluting our air and water.

We can’t jump from the coal industry’s frying pan into the fracking fire. The new U.N. report attempts, but fails, to examine the whole forest. That puts it a step up on the Obama Administration’s plan, which doesn’t even try to save a few trees. We can do both, but it can’t be with false solutions such as fracked gas and nuclear power. Real action needs to happen, and it needs to happen now.

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July 16th, 2014

Fracking in Paradise, FL

By Vickie Machado

Organizers in Florida learned that the Dan A. Hughes Co. will cease operations at its Collier Hogan well site. While the company states that they took this action on their own, allies of Food & Water Watch have been pushing the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to revoke its permit at the Collier Hogan site and it looks like the Florida DEP will file a suit against Dan A. Hughes Co., to shut down permanently. The state will also seek $25,000 in penalties against the company. We see this as a victory, and Food & Water Watch Florida Organizer Vickie Machado tells us how it all unfolded.

I am a third generation South Floridian. Both my grandfather and my mother were born and raised in Miami, long before it’s present bustling nature of high-rises and the never-ending flow of traffic. I grew up hearing stories of how my grandfather watched Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach expand past their boarders to become the South Florida region of today.

While the expansion brought the wonder of new cultures, flavors, and styles, by the time my mother came of age, this growth also continually meant infringement upon natural areas, pushing houses, shopping centers and cars further west towards the beloved Everglades. As we continue to push the boundaries, I continue to worry about our populations’ impact on what’s left of our neighboring wetlands.

While development and construction weigh heavy on my heart, more recently my fears extend further beyond my backyard sea of grass to the western most boundaries of the Everglades. It is here, on the West coast of Florida, where something perhaps more harmful than development was threating this precious ecosystem.

The Dan A. Hughes Company was found acid fracking near Naples in Collier County, the western most region of the Everglades. The process of injecting acid under high pressures is a drilling procedure never before used in Florida. To me, this means they are using the most sensitive and important ecosystem in Florida as a lab rat for their scheme to make an easy buck. When issued a cease and desist order, the company said no and decided to pay a fine while continuing with operations.

In this situation, I realize our demand for cheap energy is also to blame, as we allow this debacle to unfold. It is our cars that are being driven, our homes being cooled and electrified and our excessive livelihoods being energized. It is also our government and lawmakers who are setting the policies that allow intensive resource extraction such as acid fracking to occur. As a Food & Water Watch Organizer on the east coat of Florida, I am grateful to the grassroots groups in Collier (namely the Stone Crab Alliance and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida) struggling for the integrity of our environment and our water on a daily basis. I am also grateful to Collier County as they requested the state to revoke the oil driller’s permit.

More recently, these efforts have led to the shut down of the Collier-Hogan well and a State driven lawsuit to permanently cease operations. This has been a huge victory in the eyes of Food & Water Watch and our grassroots coalition partners. While we celebrate this triumph, it is important to know the struggle is far from over.

While Dan A Hughes walks away, the public is forced to deal with the wastewater from the Collier-Hogan well, which is said to be on its way to Miami-Dade County for disposal in treatment facilities that were not built to deal with the chemicals from acid fracking. It is situations like these that show the problems of fracking will sooner or later make it to all of our backyards.

It is up to us to demand our lawmakers start listening to the concern people of Florida and place a ban upon extreme extraction and wastewater disposal. I want to ensure we still have a South Florida to call home with clean water and preserved wetlands. This being said, it is simply unacceptable for companies to engage in such environmentally degrading activities, only to later buy their way out of trouble and send the clean up to someone else’s home. 

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July 11th, 2014

Six Books Our Staff are Reading This Summer

By Elizabeth Walek

Nothing beats lounging by the pool with a really great book! Summer is a perfect time to get caught up on reading that you’ve been putting off for weeks. Plus, books are a great way to learn more about the issues Food & Water Watch handles every day. I asked around our offices to find out which socially, politically and environmentally conscious books our staff love lately. Check out our top picks, and share your own summer reading recommendations in the comments!

Read the full article…

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