Errors, accidents, or toxic spills can occur during the fracking process for any number of reasons:
- Subpar cement in bore holes. (Remember the BP Deepwater Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico? This wasn’t an anomaly. The only thing that made it unique was how far underwater the error occurred.)
- Improper drilling techniques.
- Unexpected imperfections or layout in the underground terrain.
- Improper disposal of wastewater.
- Lack of integrity in wastewater storage dams.
- Sparks causing explosions in or around wells.
- The fracking process itself triggering an earthquake (or two, or three, or dozens).
Examples of fracking accidents
The result of these types of errors has been things like…
- Poorly managed gas wells flaring methane or toxic gases into the air.
- Gas wells exploding and then being left to burn all day, including ones near homes and farms.
- In Colorado, more than 100 million cubic feet of gas leaked into Divide Creek, which flows into the Colorado River – a source many states rely on for their water supply.
- Dams of wastewater bursting, spilling their toxic contaminants onto whatever is unlucky enough to lie downhill from them.
- Drinking water routinely contaminated with toxic gases and chemicals.
- A substantial increase in property damaging earthquakes.
Chesapeake Energy alone was cited for 141 violations just in the state of Pennsylvania in 2012. Of these, 24 involved failures of well integrity, which would allow toxic contaminants to leech into groundwater. (Goodell, 2012) The company had injected between 24,000 and 230,000 pounds of chemicals into each well site.
As Paul Solotaroff writes, “Across the country there have been disastrous spills of wastewater into rivers and streams, and illegal dumping in an aquifer. Last winter, millions of gallons polluted Yellowstone River, dumped from leaky pipes in North Dakota. Untold gallons from evaporation ponds have fouled streams and springs in Pennsylvania; that state recorded 53 spills in 2014 alone, and fined one offender, Range Resources, more than $4 million. These aren’t small runoffs that seep through soil and spit fire from some ranch hand’s spigot. These are industrial crimes that can potentially taint the drinking water for millions of people downstream.” (Solotaroff, 2015, p. 59)
Companies illegally dumping toxic fracking fluids
As if the accidents weren’t bad enough, fracking operations have also been known to intentionally dump their wastewater into public waterways or other areas they shouldn’t. A New York Times report in 2011 revealed that gas drillers were dumping millions of gallons of irradiated chemical wastewater into Pennsylvania’s rivers and streams. At another site, a subcontractor was caught opening the valves on the back of his truck and dumping toxic wastewater all along the roads as he drove. (Goodell, 2012) On account of basic human nature and the universal tendency to want to cut corners and reduce costs, I fear that intentional dumps such as these are far more common than the public would imagine.
H1: List of fracking accidents