Industry doesn’t give a frack


As Colorado struggles with the increasingly pressing issue of fracking — short for hydraulic fracturing — news comes from Wyoming that fracking has been linked to groundwater pollution for the first time.

Residents who have the misfortune of living near fracking operations, where a compound of water, sand and chemicals is injected under high pressure into the ground to break rock and free gas and oil deposits, have long reported changes to their groundwater. Predictably, their claims have been brushed off by the gas and oil industry and government. But this may change.

Just before this week’s Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission decision to approve rules requiring the disclosure of fracking fluids, on Thursday, Dec. 9, the U.S.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) shared its findings that chemicals related to fracking had been found in the groundwater near Pavillion, Wyo. EPA officials blamed the contamination on leaking pits, shoddy well casings and poor cement jobs. According to the report, the chemicals found in the water include: benzene, a known carcinogen; toluene, which though not believed to be a carcinogen is nevertheless classified as a hazardous pollutant because of its potential impact on the brain; ethylbenzene, another known carcinogen; and xylenes, exposure to which can cause both short- and long-term health problems, including fetal damage.

Have a nice, deep drink of that when you’re thirsty. Give some to your toddler. Use it to brew your grandma a soothing cup of herbal tea. Or not.

While environmentalists say the EPA report proves there’s an urgent need to review regulations nationwide concerning fracking — and to demand greater disclosure and accountability regarding the chemicals used in fracking — the oil and gas industry is trying to downplay the EPA report, claiming there’s no proof the chemicals the EPA found came from fracking.

Meanwhile, Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, a Republican, criticized the EPA’s findings, calling them “scientifically questionable” and warning that the report could have an adverse affect on the oil and gas industry and thus his state’s economy. He’s marching lockstep with the GOP, which is fighting in Congress to kill The Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act, or FRAC Act, which would bring fracking under the regulations of the Safe Drinking Water Act — if it could find its way out of committee.

What Mead and the GOP don’t seem to realize is that there is no economy whatsoever without safe drinking water. Human beings need certain things to live. Safe, clean drinking water ought to trump the needs of any industry or any state’s economy. It’s suicidal, even homicidal, for any industry to put something as hollow as profit ahead of basic necessities like pollutant-free drinking water.

But the environment impact of fracking is only one piece of a bigger problem. And that bigger problem is this: We’re doing this all backward.

We trust industry, waiting for years, sometimes decades, for proof that a chemical or industrial process is harmful, rather than placing the burden on industry to prove that it isn’t.

Imagine if plastic manufacturers had been forced to prove decades ago that phthalates and BPA were safe before foisting them on a trusting public. There would be fewer plastics — and fewer estrogenic chemicals, which have been tied to a host of cancers, including breast cancer. Imagine if Monsanto had been required to prove that GMOs, Roundup and its other products were safe. At the very least, we’d have no Roundup-resistant super-weeds. Imagine if the cigarette industry had been forced to prove that cigarettes didn’t cause cancer.

It would be a different world. Some say that hamstringing industry in this way would not only damage our economy, but also result in the United States falling behind other nations scientifically and technologically. There may be some truth in that.

But right now we let greed lead.

That’s why a governor can get away with telling the press that we shouldn’t get too worked up about the cancer-causing chemicals in the groundwater because there’s money to be made.


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