Update: Feds Sued Over California Offshore Fracking
November 17, 2016 – Two Santa Barbara environmental groups have filed a lawsuit against the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) attempting to block the agency from issuing new permits for offshore fracking in Southern California and the Santa Barbara Channel. According to the lawsuit, an environmental analysis by BSEE concluded falsely that hydraulic fracking poses no significant impact to the environment in terms of air quality, water quality, or endangered species.
What is Fracking?
Fracking, short for “hydraulic fracturing,” is the relatively new process of releasing oil or gas from underground by injecting millions of gallons of toxic fluid at high pressure, fracturing the rock formations in which it is trapped. This process involves 4 steps:
- Drilling a well thousands of feet down to access natural gas (methane) trapped within a layer of rock called shale.
- Once the proper depth is reached, the drill bit moves horizontally across the layer of shale to create a small shaft in a process called “horizontal drilling.”
- Small explosive charges are detonated along the shaft to open fissures in the shale.
- A mixture of water, sand and chemicals is injected into the fissures widening them and releasing the natural gas, which flows back through the well to the surface.
While it was relatively unheard of only a decade ago, today over 90% of all new onshore oil and gas development in the U.S. involves some form of hydraulic fracturing. This method of oil and gas extraction produces about 300,000 barrels of oil a day, but comes at the price of serious environmental, safety and health risks.
What Chemicals are Used in the Fracturing Process?
According to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce (PDF), over 2,500 fracking chemical mixtures containing at least “29 chemicals that are either known or possible carcinogens” were used from 2005 to 2009. During this time, more than 780 million gallons of the “frack fluid” was pumped into the ground.
While some of the chemicals used in the fracking process are harmless, others may pose serious health risks. Fracking fluid is known to contain:
- Ethylene glycol
- Hydrochloric acid
Only 30-50% of these chemicals are recovered after the fracking process is complete. The rest of the toxic, non-biodegradable material is left in the ground. Perhaps most concerning is that we don’t know the concentrations of these harmful chemicals, as the oil and gas industry claims that the concentration data is a “trade secret” and refuses to disclose it.
How Do the Chemicals Get into the Environment?
During the fracking process, methane gas and toxic chemicals can seep into the groundwater if the well is cracked by earth movement or temperature changes. Some fracking fluid may return to the surface after the process is complete. Contaminated with heavy metals and prone to bacterial growth, this wastewater is often stored in open pits, whose liners may become torn, spilling the toxic sludge into surface water. Additionally, improper disposal procedures have contaminated rivers and drinking water sources.
Dangers of Fracking
Environmental problems associated with hydraulic fracking include:
- Air pollution
- Contaminated drinking water / ground water
- Depletion of fresh water
- Toxic sludge and waste
- Animal deaths
- Industrial disasters
- Machinery accidents
- Well explosions
- Tremors / earthquakes
- Chemical spills
- Noise pollution
Illnesses linked to fracking:
- Neurological damage
- Sore throats
- Breathing problems
Drinking Water Contamination
Well water that has been contaminated by the fracking process is commonly used for drinking water in nearby towns and cities. There have been more than 1,000 documented cases of water contamination near gas drilling areas. Ingesting contaminated water can cause severe sensory, respiratory and neurological damage.
Who’s at Risk?
Hydraulic fracking has potential consequences nationwide, but the greatest risk is around the Marcellus Shale, a 95,000-square-mile layer of rock that holds a massive natural gas reservoir. The Marcellus Shale stretches from New York through Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, and is often referred to as America’s largest source of natural gas.
USGS Map Shows Rise in Fracking Earthquakes
The U.S. Geographical Survey (USGS) in March 2016 released an earthquake hazard forecast for the central and eastern regions of the country that for the first time includes human-caused quakes, referred to as “induced seismicity.” USGS suggests that up to 7 million people in Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas and Arkansas face an increased risks of earthquakes caused by fracking wastewater over the next year.
The risks appears greatest in north-central Oklahoma and southern Kansas, where a vast region has a 5-12% chance per year of temblors that can cause buildings to crack and even collapse. That’s comparable to the risk associated with the famously shaky California real estate, according to USGS.
Groups Sue EPA Over Drilling and Fracking Waste
In May 2016, a coalition of community and environmental organizations filed a federal lawsuit against the EPA seeking increased regulations to stop oil and gas companies from handling and disposing of fracking wastes in ways that threaten public health and the environment.
“Waste from the oil and gas industry is very often toxic and should be treated that way,” said Amy Mall, senior policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “Right now, companies can get rid of their toxic mess in any number of dangerous ways—from spraying it on icy roads, to sending it to landfills with our everyday household trash, to injecting it underground where it can endanger drinking water and trigger earthquakes. EPA must step in and protect our communities and drinking water from the carcinogens, radioactive material and other dangerous substances that go hand-in-hand with oil and gas waste.”
The organizations are pushing EPA to implement regulations that would address problems including the disposal of fracking wastewater in underground wells, which accept millions of gallons of oil and gas wastewater and have been linked to numerous tremors and earthquakes around the country.
Environmentalists Sue Federal Government for Hiding Risks of Fracking
August 29, 2016 – Environmentalists have filed a lawsuit challenging federal government leasing to oil and gas companies of nearly 400,000 acres of public land in Wyoming, Utah and Colorado. According to the complaint, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) failed to disclose the potential environmental impact and societal costs of fracking for oil and gas on public lands. Plaintiffs demand that the BLM perform full environmental impact analyses, as required per the National Environmental Policy Act, before leasing rights to drill.
North Texas Earthquakes Caused by Fracking, EPA Says
August 24, 2016 – In a letter sent last week to the Texas Railroad Commission (RRC), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Water Division Director William K. Honker said he’s concerned with earthquake activity in North Texas because of its potential impact on public health and the environment, including underground drinking water sources. Honker cited 3 areas around the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area where the RRC shut down or severely restricted the injection volume of fracking wells.
“Seismic activity in these three areas substantially diminished in frequency and magnitude; however, earthquake events continue in other areas of North Texas, most notably, frequent events in and near the city of Irving in Dallas County,” Honker said.
Colorado Activists Gather Signatures for Ballot Measure to Limit Fracking
August 15, 2016 – In an effort to slow the advance of oil exploration in Colorado, a coalition of environmental organizations have been gathering signatures in support of 2 initiatives aimed at limiting the practice of hydraulic fracking. One of the measures would establish control over oil and natural gas operations in Colorado, while the other would prohibit drilling and fracking within 2,500 feet of occupied buildings, waterways and open public spaces in the state. If either initiative passes, it would represent the most serious political effort yet to stop fracking in the U.S., according to the New York Times.
Coalition Demands More Data on Fracking Chemicals
July 29, 2016 – A coalition of Montana property owners, health advocates and state government agencies have petitioned the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation (MBOGC) to close its “trade-secrets rule” regarding the non-disclosure of fracking chemicals. A 2011 state rule allows fracking companies to keep secret any chemicals they consider to be trade secrets; however, the coalition says the rule is an unlawful loophole, violating the public’s right to disclosure about dangerous chemicals that can contaminate groundwater or cause air pollution.
Fracking May Worsen Asthma, Study Finds
July 18, 2016 – Hydraulic fracturing may worsen asthma in children and adults who live near drilling sites, according to a study published today in JAMA Internal Medicine. A research team led by Sara Rasmussen of Johns Hopkins University looked at electronic health records of 36,000 asthma patients treated in the Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania, and found evidence of asthma attacks in new prescriptions for steroid medications (20,000), ER admissions for asthma treatment (2,000) and asthma hospitalizations (5,000). These outcomes were 50% to 4 times more common in asthma patients living closer to areas with active fracking wells than among those living far away, according to the study.
Massive Fracking Explosion in New Mexico Highlights Dangers of Fossil Fuel Industry
July 15, 2016 – An oil field owned and operated by WPX Energy in San Juan County, New Mexico, erupted in flames Monday night, setting off explosions and temporarily closing Highway 550. Fifty-five local residents were forced out of their homes, according to EcoWatch. Environmental activists have been speaking out against the explosion.
“This highlights the failure to have adequate safeguards in place to protect local communities and also raises serious questions about chemicals and toxicity associated with the explosion,” said Mike Eisenfeld, the Energy and Climate Program manager at the San Juan Citizens Alliance. “Emergency response for this explosion was hours away. A thorough investigation is necessary.”
Offshore Fracking Wells Dump Billions of Gallons of Wastewater into Gulf
July 11, 2016 – The Center for Biological Diversity has released documents indicating that the U.S. government approved over 1,200 offshore fracks in 630 wells in the Gulf of Mexico between 2010 and 2014. Fracking projects occurred off the coasts of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, with no public involvement or site-specific tests conducted prior to drilling, according to the documents. In the process, at least 76 billion gallons of wastewater was dumped into the sea in 2014 alone.
German Gov’t Proposes Indefinite Ban on Fracking
June 27, 2016 – Germany’s coalition government agreed to ban fracking for shale gas indefinitely last week, according to Reuters. However, the compromise legislation requires that German parliament reassess whether the decision is still valid in 2021, said Thomas Oppermann, who heads the left Social Democrats (SPD) parliamentary group.
“The coalition’s agreement on a fracking permission law is hair-raising,” said Hubert Weiger, head of Friends of the Earth Germany (BUND), an environmental group that opposes the legislation. “The law must be stopped and replaced with a true fracking ban.”
Federal Judge Strikes Down Obama’s Fracking Regulations
June 22, 2016 – U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl has blocked the Obama administration’s regulations on fracking, ruling that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) doesn’t have the power to set rules over the industry on federal and Indian lands. Skavdahl said in the ruling (PDF) that Congress hadn’t granted the BLM authority over fracking, and had instead ruled to specifically exclude the process from federal regulation.
“The issue before this Court is not whether hydraulic fracturing is good or bad for the environment or the citizens of the United States,” the judge wrote. “The question, instead, is whether Congress has delegated to the Department of Interior legal authority to regulate hydraulic fracturing. It has not.”
California Counties Push for All-Out Ban on Fracking
June 17, 2016 – California has some of the strictest hydraulic fracturing regulations in the U.S., but some environmental groups now seek an all-out ban on the industry. Those groups had a victory this week in Butte County, where a ballot ban on fracking passed with over 70% of the vote, according to Politico. A similar ballot initiative is set for November in Monterey County, one of the state’s top 10 oil-producing regions. Protect Monterey County, an anti-fracking group, wants oil wells in the county to be permanently sealed, which seems likely after this week’s vote in Butte County.
Fracking Waste Lawsuit Filed Against EPA
May 16, 2016 – A collective of environmental organizations has filed a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in an attempt to get it to address the problem of wastewater resulting from the fracking process. The complaint seeks to impose stricter rules on the disposal of fracking wastes, outlaw the practice of dumping wastewater onto fields or roads, and tighter specifications for ponds and landfills where drilling and fracking wastes are dumped. The lawsuit also requests that the court set a time limit for the EPA to adopt the new regulations.
Do I Have a Fracking Lawsuit?
The Class Action Litigation Group at our law firm is an experienced team of trial lawyers that focus on the representation of plaintiffs in fracking lawsuits. We are handling individual litigation nationwide and currently accepting new air and water contamination cases in all 50 states.
Free Confidential Case Evaluation: Again, if you believe you were harmed by the fracking process, you should contact our law firm immediately. You may be entitled to a settlement by filing a suit and our lawyers can help.