Dangers of Fracking Farmland: Our Food Supply’s at Risk

Extracting natural gas via hydraulic fracturing is a controversial process that leaves behind hundreds of toxic chemicals in the fracking wastewater. One of the many dangers of fracking is that the practice can contaminate food supplies.
By Shelly Stonebrook
February/March 2014
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Fracking farmland is far from benign. According to farmers, cattle exposed to toxins in some fracked areas are falling ill, and even dying.
Illustration courtesy The Nation

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Hydraulic fracturing (usually called “fracking”), a process used to extract natural gas from far below ground, became much more widespread in the United States starting in about 2003 — and discussions about the many dangers of fracking have likewise increased.

To draw out difficult-to-access reserves of gas, crews drill thousands of feet into the earth and pump in highly pressurized, chemical-laden fracking fluids. This allows them to get the gas out — but the process leaves a mess in its wake.

Fracking wastewater contains acetaldehyde, ammonium chloride, arsenic, benzene, formaldehyde, lead, mercury, radium and hundreds of other chemicals. The controversial practice pollutes water supplies and land with these toxins — which are so substantial that, in the most affected areas, household tap water can sometimes be set afire as if the water were gasoline. (Check out the 2010 documentary film Gasland for footage of this.)

In addition to reportedly making people sick from polluted water supplies, fracking may now be tainting our food supply. Because of the presence of chemicals in the water on farms where fracking is common, cattle in fracked areas are falling ill with neurological, reproductive and acute gastrointestinal problems. The polluted water is also threatening the health of the soil and crops near fracking sites. As reported by The Nation, the Marcellus Shale formation in the northeast United States holds vast supplies of natural gas and is currently being fracked — yet it also spans an area that is home to three of the country’s highest concentrations of organic farms, which are in New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The fracking boom is radically changing the landscape of some areas in these states. Farmers striving to avoid harmful chemicals are facing constant worry about their water supply containing toxic substances. To learn more about the dangers of fracking and its impact on our food, read Fracking Our Food Supply.

Shelley Stonebrook is MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine’s main gardening editor. She’s passionate about growing healthy, sustainable food and taking care of our environment. Follow her on Twitter, Pinterest and .

Post a comment below.


3/13/2014 9:01:35 AM
As someone who isn't sure whether to be for or against fracking I read this article for some details. This article presents a 'straw man' argument with supporting opinions and details but lacks any supporting evidence. Sadly, this is too common in journalism today. I'm not asking for a intense study within the article, but please offer something more substantive connecting or disconnecting the problems to the cause.

3/4/2014 12:43:21 PM
Richard H and Alford Green, if fracking is so safe then why did the Exon CEO join a group who is suing to keep it away from their property? You would think he'd want to prove it was safe by allowing it to be done near his land, but this doesn't seem to be the case now does it? Then again, when he has two brainwashed idiots such as yourselves spreading his lies, why should he bother to poison his family when you're both so willing to poison yours and deny it's being done?

3/1/2014 11:52:32 AM
Ignorant people believe about everything they hear,read,or see... How many oil wells do you know of that are less than 6000 feet deep ? How many water wells do you know of that are over 1000 feet deep ? That is at least a 5000 foot separation... The only people I see yelping about contaminated drinking water are the Hollywood and other Liberal idiots who are doing their utmost to destroy our country as fast as as they possibly can...

Alfred Green
2/28/2014 8:17:35 AM
***It's too bad you folks don't follow the federal Environmental Protection Agency's pronouncements on fracking: There's absolutely NO danger to farmland and crops, nor to the ground water supplies. Your brief article contains assertions, but no documentation...probably because there isn't any. I live smack dab in the center of fracked northeast Pennsylvania. We have had NO problems. (Fracking water, BTW, is mostly fresh water and fine sand. The chemicals used for lubrication are found in everyday household product use and in food products on the grocery shelves, and all fracking water is safely removed and sent for processing and recycling.)

Joe Wiseman
2/24/2014 8:26:26 PM
These companies will poison the water table without remorse - Please share the song. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v283MunuZaE&feature=share&list=UUK637I8lHwNuxUk39J6sgIA

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