The U.S. government recently unveiled its first ever nationwide fracking safety rules, TIME reports. The new rules require companies drilling on federal and tribal lands to reveal what chemicals they are using to drill within at least 30 days from the start of operations. The new safety measures also lay out stricter guidelines for collecting wastewater and protecting groundwater while drilling.
Hydraulic fracturing—better known as “fracking”—is a process by which natural gas is extracted from the earth by breaking up rocks with a liquid compound. A mixture of sand, water, and various chemicals is injected into the ground through a high-powered drill, penetrating up to two miles of earth.
Fracking has the potential to expose various parties to toxic chemicals. For instance, a 2013 report by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found that fracking exposes workers to silica dust, which can cause fatal lung disease. During fracking, crystalline silica can enter workers’ lungs, resulting in silicosis. Silicosis normally manifests with shortness of breath, and can contribute to serious health problems such as lung cancer, tuberculosis, kidney disease, and autoimmune disorders.
Fracking has additionally been associated with increased levels of arsenic in groundwater. A 2013 study found high levels of arsenic and other heavy metals in the Barnett Shale in Texas. Arsenic, selenium, and strontium were all found to be present in quantities exceeding EPA limitations for contaminants in drinking water. The level of arsenic in particular was found to be 18 times greater in fracking areas than in non-fracking areas. These results agree with those of another study conducted by the EPA in 2009, which found high levels of arsenic near fracking sites in Pavillion, WY.
By placing stricter rules on how companies go about fracking, the U.S. government hopes to reduce pollution and unsafe drilling practices. The Interior Department has stated that complying with the new regulations should cost companies no more than a quarter of a percent of what it costs to drill a new well. The new safety measure will apply to over 100,000 oil and gas wells, which account for some 11 percent of natural gas production and 5 percent of oil production in the United States.
Those in the industry continue to claim that fracking is safe, yet troubling findings regarding pollution and chemical exposure, as well as evidence of confidential settlements, still leave much room for doubt. If you or someone you know has been injured from exposure to fracking chemicals or suffered from contaminated groundwater, contact the attorneys at Lopez McHugh. We can help you explore your options with a free legal consultation.