By Lois Kim
In 2013, the state of California ordered oil companies to test the water extracted from wells in order to understand the health effects of oil fracking.
Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” consists of drilling and blasting water, sand, and chemicals 6,000 feet into the ground at a high pressure to fracture shale rocks and release the natural gas inside.
These tests, compiled by the Center for Biological Diversity, revealed that 98% of wastewater samples from the 329 fracked oil wells exceeded federal and state water quality standards for benzene concentrations. In 320 of those wastewater samples, benzene levels were over 700 times the federal standards for drinking water. Around 118 of the water samples also detected chromium-6 at levels up to 2,700 times higher than the suggested level established by the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, posing as a major health hazard as both benzene and chromium-6 can cause cancer.
The tests reveal the dangerous chemicals discarded into underground waste wells, due to fracking. To make matters worse, California’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources recently admitted that for decades, it had accidently let oil companies dispose the drilling wastewater into more than 170 disposal wells.
Additionally, these wells lead to aquifers that contained water classified as clean by federal law. The agency blamed this mistake on its unorganized record-keeping and outdated data collection.
Moreover, the results from this study may not even report the full extent of the benzene in the fracking flowback as many oil companies did not comply with reporting requirements. At least 150 operators stated some results but then either did not test for or provided no information for benzene and other dangerous chemicals.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will be directing $500,000 to help California establish a foundation for water quality and manage its water associated with the many oil and gas operations.
Acquiring natural gas by fracking instead of conventional oil drilling is said to be easier and more efficient. Due to fracking, crude oil production increased from 5 million barrels per day in 2008 to 7 million barrels per day in 2013. Since fracking is more efficient, people hope that fracking will decrease the price of natural gas to replace coal as a main source of energy, in hopes to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and air pollution with mercury, sulfur dioxide, or ash. According to the EPA, U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases dropped by 4.6% in 2011, mostly due to the decreasing use of coal in power plants and the increase in combustion of clean-burning natural gas.
However, there are many opponents to fracking. Studies have shown it can cause unprecedented amounts of earthquakes, record droughts, climate change, further exploitation of immigrant workers, displacement of poor commentates, and extreme water contamination.
“Cancer-causing chemicals are surfacing in fracking flowback fluid just as we learn that the California oil industry is disposing of wastewater in hundreds of illegal disposal wells and open pits,” Hollin Kretzmann, the Center lawyer who conducted the analysis said to the Center for Biological Diversity. “Gov. Brown needs to shut down all the illegal wells immediately and ban fracking to fight this devastating threat to California’s water supply.”