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California Shrugged: No One Knows What's Up With Frack Water

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By Heather Callaghan

Something fishy is going on with California’s assessments and so-called fracking regulations…
It is an unfortunate reality that good jobs are intertwined with what might be later construed as not only an environmental devastation but America’s next personal health devastation – hydraulic fracking.

It is also unfortunate that while Americans flock to so-called “boom towns” for those good jobs – the jobs themselves are tied into the ebb and flow of gas prices. As such, it is not surprising to hear rumors of mass layoffs in the boom towns and see the resulting economic effects.

Perhaps the last thing we need is another incentive for Big Oil to hurt Americans and the water supply.

Perhaps this little break was the cold splash of water that regulatory agencies and researchers needed to find out that such indiscriminate fracking was quite possibly the worst thing allowed unbridled in drought-stricken California.

Think Progress summarized a report that you can find in its entirety here:

A scientific assessment on the impacts of hydraulic fracturing in California found that, in large part, the chemicals used are not being identified or tracked, and it’s nearly impossible to tell how damaging the process is to California’s water supply.

The study, carried out by the California Council on Science and Technology (CCST), recommended state agencies ban the reuse of wastewater from hydraulic fracturing — or fracking — for any use that could impact human health, the environment, wildlife, and vegetation until further testing can be done.

According to the CCST assessment, the toxicity of half of the chemicals used in California fracking is not publicly available. More than half the chemicals have not been evaluated for basic tests “that are needed for understanding hazards and risks associated with chemicals.”

In terms of water contamination, no California agency has conducted a systematical study of the possible impacts, the assessment said. In fact, across all of California, only one water contamination sampling study — near a fracking site in Los Angeles County — has been done. Results of contamination studies in other regions of the country have been mixed, the report said. But since we don’t know what’s going into the chemical mix, or how it might react with other elements over time, these types of studies might not even be testing for the right things.

Since full chemical compositions are not known how can tests produce accurate results until then or how could test researchers know what to look for? Great questions that no one is really answering. CCST is in favor of reusing frack waste water if it helps with conservation – they just don’t know what’s in it or what the results will be. Doesn’t that sound a bit short-sighted?

Here’s one thing the report found out: “Treatment of produced water destined for reuse may not detect or remove chemicals associated with hydraulic fracturing and acid stimulation.”

Remember that time I wrote about big companies like Chevron selling leftover frack water to desperate farmers? Selling waste…for profit. It’s nice to finally find out that none of it was treated before it was doused onto our food supply. Now that, coupled with human sewage treatment for fertilizer is just plain absurd.

A variety of hazardous substances are used in typical fracking fluids (examples here and here) although California substances are harder to track down. Even so, some California tests have found high levels of acetone and methylene chloride — which can be toxic to humans. Additionally, they found oil which is supposed to be removed during treatment. So it really is valid to be concerned about this substance applied on agriculture.

At least CCST understands that the practices are not being monitored – not really at all. Including the three known ways of disposing of the waste – dumped into open pits to be reabsorbed into the ground, injected into below-ground wells, or reused in farming. They called for “more attention” but did not want to admit that there were any problems with groundwater contamination even California ordered closing some of the waste pits due to contamination and EarthJustice filed a lawsuit in May to stop ground well waste injections. The lawsuit noted that of the few regulations to exist, they aren’t really enforced.

New regulations for assessments and reporting from oil companies as a result of Senate Bill 4 don’t seem to offer repercussions or a way to stop certain activity from potentially contaminating precious water supplies in California.
And the kicker – these new “regulations” were quickly and deliberately finalized before an important safety assessment came out to show the harm of fracking exposure to humans, environment and water supplies. An assessment that was delayed. Leaving the final regulations obviously deficient. The same thing happens when a damning report is about to come out about pesticides harming bee populations.
The assessment found that 1.7 million people live within a mile of a fracking site. Moreover, three-quarters of all fracking operations in California. take place in shallow wells less than 2,000 feet underground. This makes California’s fracking operations particularly dangerous to groundwater.

According to the study, 2.6 billion gallons of fresh water are used each year for fracking in California. (Think Progress)

Doesn’t it seem like there’s a better way to help the economy, provide energy and not hurt dwindling water supplies? California shrugs. Corporations get away with some of the worst abominations during crises – economic or environmental. Agencies and scientists cooperate instead of set boundaries and innovate.

History shows, that whenever the regulatory industries with their relationship to corporations ensure that their practices are safe whether it’s fracking remnants in the water tables or on vegetation, smart meter waves, pesticides or vaccines – I just think the opposite is true. So what are we paying the regulatory agencies for then?

Illustration, “American Gasland“, copyrighted by Marcellus Protest on Flickr, published under Creative Commons licence

Heather Callaghan is a natural health blogger and food freedom activist. You can see her work at and Like at Facebook.

Recent posts by Heather Callaghan:


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