Hydraulic fracturing, commonly referred to as “fracking”, is a mining technique that injects pressurized liquid composed of sand and chemicals into the earth so that gas and oil can flow more freely, and thus, be of more profit to the energy industry. But despite its economic advantages, environmentalists claim that the fracking process contaminates groundwater by introducing salts and radioactive chemicals to the mix. As part of our collaboration with MSNBC, Vocativ went to Central Pennsylvania, which is adding fracking wells to their landscape at three times the national average.
In an attempt to sway public perception of the industry, executives and politicians campaigning on behalf of hydraulic fracturing have gone so far as to drink fracking fluid in front of large crowds and members of the media. But at a recent fracking convention, Phil Grossweiler, an Energy Industry consultant, insisted that this is nothing but a publicity stunt.
“The point of seeing executives and politicians drink fracking fluid was deception,” he tells us. “It was an attempt to convince the public that there is no hard from fracturing a shale oil well. It was deceptive in the sense that it’s the least of the problems. What goes down the well is not nearly as important as what comes up.”
A third of the fluid that is used to free natural gas during the fracking process is returned to the surface as toxic waste. This fluid is referred to as “flowback water”, and it comes out of the wellheads laced with a considerable amount of radon gas.
To measure the amount of radon gas present in water found in the proximity of fracking sites, Vocativ tested flowback from a stream near Trout Run, Penn., which is lined with upwards of 15 wellheads.
“We are now 15 minutes into this test for radon,” Andrew Nelson, a scientist at the University Iowa, explains as he tested our flowback sample. “We can say that the amount of radon in this vial is thousands of times higher than the allowable standards for drinking water based on the EPA limits.”
Radon gas is the second leading cause of lung cancer in America, yet, there are no federal regulations limiting radon in flowback water.
Still, locals in the Nation’s fracking capital are enjoying the economic perks. “Right over the hill is a nice guy who taught his whole life, hardworking guy…” Ronnie Rodarmel Jr., a landowner in Trout Run, Penn., tells us. “He has 200 acres. His kids are probably not going to have to worry about money.”
And Cassidy, a waitress at Fry Bros. Turkey Ranch in Trout Run, is experiencing the financial benefits that the fracking industry brings first hand. “Sometimes we get, um, gas workers in here and they get very large to-go orders,“ she says. “They leave us really big tips, which we appreciate!”
Fracking is expected to add $30 billion to the Pennsylvania economy over the next two decades.