What The Frack?



As many fossil fuels draw closer to depletion following the peak oil event, many leading energy companies have told us that Natural Gas would move us toward a greener tomorrow as our clean energy solution for the future. Since most of our electric power comes form burning coal, it is true that Natural gas is cleaner. It is widely known that coal produces a great deal of carbon monoxide and other adverse things when it is burned (sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulates). Natural Gas is offered as a clean alternative because it does not release those things. But given the very nature of fossil fuels, to say that Natural Gas is a cleaner alternative is like saying a 9mm bullet causes less damage than a 50 caliber; both are lethal. Because even if Natural Gas burns cleaner, the methods used to extract it negate whatever positive effects it has over other fuels.
Filmmaker Josh Fox reveals in his seminal documentary Gasland :
“…a method of gas drilling called Hydraulic Fracturing or Fracking blasts a mix of water and chemicals 8,000 feet into the ground. In order to Frack one needs Fracking fluid; a mix of over 596 chemicals, the brew is full of corrosion inhibitors, gellants, drilling additives, biocides, shale control inhibitors, liquid breaker aids, viscosifiers, liquid gell concentrates and more.”

After reports of residencies that could light their tap water on fire, the heavily Fracked Garfield County conducted a health study, which was prematurely abandoned by county commissioners and later continued to its conclusion by Dr. Lisa McKenzie. Her work reveals that people living within half a mile of a Fracking well have 60% higher cancer rates. If your water is contaminated by Fracking, you can’t drink it, you can’t bathe in it, you can’t wash your laundry in it, you can’t do your dishes with it, you can’t water your garden with it – it is absolutely, irreversibly toxic. Animals who drink water contaminated by Fracking fluids will lose weight, begin projectile vomiting, and lose large clumps of their hair.

Ron and Gene Carter, who had a gas well in their front yard, were interviewed as part of Josh Fox’s Gasland. Shortly after the well was drilled, their water started bubbling and fizzing. It turned out to be natural gas. Ron Carter had this to say:

“I told them that I wasn’t happy – that our water was good before they started drilling and when they got done it was bad. They asked if we could prove that it was because of them. My wife asked the guy if he could prove that it wasn’t He wouldn’t talk to her anymore. We’ve lived here forty years, and never had a problem with the water. Then they drilled. After they drilled the water was bad.”



  • Water turns color – from gold to amber and sometimes even black
  • Water that tastes funny, described sometimes as metallic
  • Water that smells like gas or turpentine and makes you dizzy
  • Water tests that turn up various hydrocarbons and Glycol Ethers
  • Water wells that explode. Physical symptoms include the loss of smell and taste, chronic headaches, ringing in the ears and extreme neuropathy. The loss of smell and taste is caused by exposure to Hydrogen sulfide, but long term exposure to this chemical cocktail can cause irreversible brain damage and even cancer.



Josh Fox continues:

“From 1995 to 2000, Dick Cheyney was the CEO of Halliburton. In 2000 he stepped down as Halliburton’s CEO to become Vice President of the United States of America. One of the firs things he did when he became Vice President was to form what  is known as the Energy Task Force; an organization that met over forty time with industry leaders, but met only once with members from environmental groups. This Energy Task Force, combined with a Hundred-Million-Dollar lobbying effort on behalf of the industry, were influential in the passage of what is called the Halliburton-Loophole to the Safe Drinking Water Act, which authorizes oil and gas drillers exclusively to inject  hazardous materials known to be toxic, completely unchecked without any oversight whatsoever, directly into water systems or adjacent to underground drinking water supplies. It passed as a part of the Bush Administration’s energy policy act of 2005. The 2005 energy bill cleared away all the restrictions for companies like Encana, Williams energy, Cabot Oil and Gas, and Chesapeake who began using the Halliburton technology in the largest and most extensive domestic gas drilling campaign in history, now occupying 34 states.

“The water sample from Dimock, PA contained Barium, Strontium, Total Kjeldahl Nitrogen, and Methaline Blue Active Substance (MBAS) which are reactive agents that turn blue when they come into contact with detergents or surfactants. Detergents don’t sound so bad considering we wash our laundry with them, but you probably don’t want to drink a detergent, and you certainly don’t want to drink a surfactant. Everything that enters one of your cells, enters through a surface. A surfactant will allow oil or other substances to pass through surfaces, by dissolving them – so if a surfactant gets into a stream near fish, it will dissolve the fish’s gills.”

Water on fire, May 9, 2011.


The industry has admitted publicly to the use of Hydrochloric Acid to dissolve muds; antibacterial agents such as Glutaraldehyde; viscosity removal agents like Ammonium Persulfate; Dimethyl Formaldehyde, Potassium Chloride, and corrosion inhibitors to preserve piping.

Theo Colborn, five-time winner of Audubon’s Rachel Carson awards and Time Magazine Environmentalist of the Year, has shed more light on the subject of Hydraulic Fracturing than just about anyone else. The only reason we know anything about the Fracking chemicals is because of her work. By chasing down trucks, combing through Material-Safety-Data-Sheets, and collecting samples, Theo has identified 596 different chemicals, in 900 chemical products.

When she found Methylene Chloride in drinking water, she had no way of knowing  that it was being used a a Fracking chemical because the patented Fracking chemicals are considered private intellectual property, and were thus kept secret.

“We didn’t know the chemicals used in Fracking because they are a proprietary secret. Methylene Chloride is used as a solvent to reduce paraffin so the workers don’t slip, but because it is used for that purpose it isn’t being reported – and methylene stands out from some of these other hydrocarbons because it is a man made chlorinated hydrocarbon that doesn’t decay in the environment. Once it is there it is there.  It isn’t reported and we don’t hear about it.”


For the same reason, the exemptions given to these industries equates to regulatory bodies of our government failing to do their job and collect valuable environmental contamination data, let alone disclosing anything to the public, since Fracking chemicals are considered proprietary, like the special sauce for a big mack, or the secret formula for Coca-Cola. Theo tells us that:

“Every environmental law we wrote to protect public health is ignored. But the neurological effects are really insidious. At first you might just have headaches. Then the next thing you might have ringing in your ears. Or you maybe you’re a little disoriented. Or you may feel a little dizzy. But eventually you may feel what is called peripheral neuropathy, and when you get to this stage, you have irreversible brain damage.”



In addition to outwardly polluting existing water supplies, the water demands for the industry of Hydraulic Fracturing itself are nothing short of tremendous. Each well requires 1 to 7 million gallons of water, and there are now more than 450,000 wells nationwide. Each time they go back and Frack an existing well, they need an additional 1 to 7 million gallons of water.  They can Frack a well up to 18 times in its life.

450,000 wells, multiplied by 18 Fracks, multiplied by the 1-7 Million Gallons of water required for each Frack, comes out to something like 40 Trillion gallons of water, all of it infused with the 596 chemicals in the Fracking fluid. And the water this industry uses never returns to the spring, ever. They take clean, fresh water and mix it with these chemicals, only to dispose of it down another deep ejection well, and it never comes back to the surface, although it will very likely effect the top ground water in the surrounding area eventually. The water is permanently unusable after this process takes place, and everything surrounding the well is compromised as well.

Once wells and aquifers are destroyed, the damage is permanent. Fresh water is the most valuable liquid on the planet, and Fracking contaminates it permanently. According to a Green Peace Africa Infographic, Hydraulic Fracturing generated 280 billion gallons of toxic waste water in the year 2012, which to put things into perspective, would be enough toxic sludge to submerge Washington D.C. IN a 22-Foot Deep toxic lagoon.

And we can’t simply buy more sophisticated filtration systems, because many of the chemicals contaminants involved in Hydraulic Fracturing cannot be filtered out. For example, reverse osmosis won’t filter out Glycol Ethers, because Glycol Ethers (which are solvents commonly used in paints) eat the membranes inside of the filters, rendering them useless. Glycol Ethers are odorless, colorless, and are also the liquid chemical component of many plastics.

Water is the source of all life. Of all the water on earth, less than half a percent is clean, potable, drinkable fresh water. It is perhaps the most precious resources on the face of the Earth at present. And now thanks to Hydro-Fracking, it is quickly becoming an endangered resource.

The industry would have us believe that fluid migration is rare, and that the dangerous chemicals used in these operations are quarantined to the wells themselves. They tell us that after installing multiple layers of cement and steel, these Fracking fluids shouldn’t move into surrounding water systems. We know that this contention simply is not true. In fact 12% of all brand new wells have some kind of leak, and Fracking fluids have been found in the ground water of countless municipal water supplies.

The industry has posed no real solutions, monitoring, or oversight whatsoever.  And it is impossible to restore aquifers contaminated as a result of Fracking. Once they’re ruined, there is no bringing them back from the dead. Communities subsisting on contaminated aquifers will be forced into dependence on potable water hauled in from other places, hence dependence upon corporations capable of providing said clean water.

Water is among the scarcest of resources – much more so than oil or gas. Despite the fact that geologists see this sinkhole for what it is, the bigwigs at the energy companies charge forward toward the cliff’s edge, and we’re all along for the ride.  This kind of mismanagement of the Earth is happening everywhere. If you are near Hydro-Fracking wells, you’re not alone. Again – this is currently happening in 34 states.

We would do well to enact Fracking bans in our local governments, because we have a right to a clean and healthy environment.  When it comes to a clean and safe environment the Dollar will never be able to resurrect that which has been taken away. Corporations like Halliburton say there is no proof, and in order to do something they need some evidence. Meanwhile an army of corporate lobbyists who are funded the deepest pockets of all stand ready to defend against environmental hippies in the name of profits. When you ask them who represents the people, they’ll tell you to call a lawyer – as if we all can afford such luxuries. They would prefer we fight them in the kangaroo courts that are the mockery of our modern justice system, because they have rigged the system in the name of profit. You cannot defeat them in the courts because those who control the dollar are those who rig the courts in favor of the dollar. Perhaps we should stop wasting our time in courts that were made explicitly for wealthy domination over others.



Pedro Da Costa of Reuters recently tweeted:

“Holy Frack! The U.S. will soon overtake Russia as the world’s top oil producer…because America is now producing 7.8 million barrels of oil – the most in a long time. 30% of that, however, is from Fracking, and the U.S. Shale oil boom may not last as Fracking wells lack staying power.”

The dark secret of this whole industry is that it is a short term solution that cannot last. After drilling a well, accelerated pumping and the establishing of new wells is required just to keep production steady. In other words, you have to keep running faster just to stay in the same place.

The average life of a Fracking well is 36 months at the absolute maximum, more commonly depleted at 18 to 24 months. Within the first year, the average shale oil wells have all declined by 70% in measurable output. The industry of Fracking requires constant new wells emerge to stay alive in the negative feedback loop. The higher production goes, the more wells are needed to offset the inevitable decline. So in the U.S. alone this year, corporations need to drill 6,000 new wells just to keep pace with the old wells declining. The cost of the energy it takes to drill for oil, is a process that itself requires energy; as oil prices escalate, the cost of pulling oil out of the ground is greater than the excess that will be sold down the line. Max Keiser refers to such economic practices as Suicide Economics. It is easy to see why – the amount of capital required just to keep even to produce new wells is $35 billion annually.

Stacy Herbert points out that what is more, the newest wells that have been drilled most recently, aren’t as productive as those drilled in the first years of the boom! This is a sign that oil companies have already tapped the best spots. This also means that next year, instead of drilling 6,000 additional wells, they will have to drill 12,0000 new wells, and after that 24,000 wells, and after that 48,000 &c.

At last it may be important to remember whenever we talk about the use of fossil fuels that it doesn’t have as much to do with consumerism, which is a problem, but much more to do with the military industrial complex’s dependence upon fossil fuels. At last I heard they haven’t figured out a way to run AH-64 Apache helicopters or F-16 Fighter Jets without the use of fossil fuels. In fact three-quarters (or 75%) of all oil that is consumed by the west is used by the military, which means no matter how dedicated consumers are to alternative energy, America will continue to consume more and more fossil fuels. For instance, how much fuel does it take to get a single fighter off of the ground? How much fuel does it take to run a single M-1 Abrams tank for 30 minutes? Perhaps the question that intrigues me the most as oil spills become more prevalent and the scorched earth that is the Tar Sands blackens our horizons is this: how can we calmly accept what many are calling, the next extinction event as it creeps ever closer to our perceivable reality?

[1] Ohio Earthquakes Linked To Fracking, A First For Region

[2] Gas patch scientists explain how hydraulic fracturing can permanently contaminate public water supplies


Gabrielle Lafayette is a journalist, writer, and executive producer for the Outer Limits Radio Show.

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