NEW SOUTH JOURNALISM: Arkansas Fracking Investigation

NEW SOUTH JOURNALISM: Fracking Investigation by J. Malcolm Garcia, August 27, 2012, Oxford American
The bloody business of fracking in Arkansas. … “The industry says [frack fluid] goes down and comes back up through pipes and is fine,” says Daniel Botkin, ecologist and Professor Emeritus at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “In fact, stuff comes out and contaminates surface water and soil. If they wanted to do this in any reliable way, they would pick a few places and frack as an experiment and study the outcomes. That’s not what’s happening. There’s so much money to be made, fracking is done on a very large scale. It could affect a lot of people.”

“Are they bulldozing to build houses?” Dirk asked a neighbor. “No,” the man said. “They’re drilling gas wells.” … Tap water turned light brown. Cleared up same day. Started getting pink rings in toilet bowls. What is in water?

At the request of the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission, Haydar Al-Shukri, chair of Applied Sciences at the University of Arkansas, Little Rock, had been monitoring an injection well in the Greenbrier area. … Al-Shukri’s equipment was able to detect seismic activity within a twenty-five-mile radius that included three other injection wells. He found a strong correlation between the earthquakes and two of the wells. … In February 2011, the Greenbrier area experienced a quake that registered 4.7 on the Richter Scale—the state’s worst in thirty-five years. A month later, when a moratorium was placed on the injection wells, the earthquakes all but stopped. In the six months prior to the shutdown, over twelve hundred earthquakes had been recorded.

Memphis lawyer Tim Holton wants courts to require independent monitoring of water supplies and public health in areas near fracking activities.

I break off our conversation for a moment and call Adam Law, a clinical assistant professor at Weill Cornell Medical College and practicing endocrinologist in New York. He is calling on gas companies to stop the use of hydraulic fracturing until its effects on people and the environment have been thoroughly studied. I tell him about the symptoms the Wilsons and DeTurcks experienced. “As doctors, we’re not really trained in environmental health,” he says. “There’s very little training with occupational exposure. When you see stuff like this for the first time, it’s a little uncomfortable. You don’t know who to send the patient to or what to prescribe. It’s difficult to know what they’ve been exposed to. You can tell people how to reduce exposure—don’t bathe or drink the water—but it’s hard to say don’t breathe.”

When the big quake struck, the Wilsons’ roosters, dogs, and donkeys began barking and crowing and braying all at once. The ground shifted. A kind of growl passed through the house. The noise was like thunder, Keith says, but it lasted longer. They bought earthquake insurance for eight hundred dollars a year. It costs more than any royalty payment they have received from the gas company.

Jack is eighty-two years old. Mary uses a cane to help her walk. Jack helps her, crouching forward a little bit, a hand on her elbow. … In 2006, the gas company drilled a well to extract water for fracking, Jack says. Their well was deeper than his and drew his water away. His water pump came up dry. … One day, when the gas company was blowing out a well, Jack was on a neighbor’s property helping him clear brush. When he got back to his house, he found Mary lying prostrate on the floor. According to Jack, she’d inhaled too much methane—a doctor told him ten minutes later might have been too late. Jack says Mary has never been the same. … He’s angry at the state of Arkansas for failing to regulate, failing to protect. … “We’re supposed to have record heat this summer,” he says. “Am I going to have any water at all?” [Emphasis added]

[Refer also to: Man in hospital, dog dead in Kelowna toxic gas incident ]

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