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 Google+.