Highwater Marks

By Lady Wa Wa

To many of us, the idea of toxic chemicals released by fracking into our water supplies seems remote. We assume only folks living next door to hydraulic fracturing operations in Texas, Ohio or Pennsylvania could possibly be affected.

Hydraulic fracturing has now been applied more than a million times to onshore U.S. oil and gas wells. Worldwide, more than 2.5 million hydraulic fracturings have occurred, with more being planned every day.

Fracking chemicals

Fracking is the process of injecting water, chemicals and sand into shale rock to release natural gas. There are numerous negative consequences of fracking near communities, as the process produces a toxic wastewater that cannot be treated by standard water sanitation facilities. In fact, people who live in areas where fracking occurs may be consuming toxic water straight from their faucets, as many watchdog groups warn.

FracFocus.org has compiled an extensive list of chemicals used in fracking, along with maps and regulations for individual states. The chemical chart is sorted alphabetically by the Product Function to make it easier for readers to compare chemicals to fracturing records .

According to Food and Water Watch.org, more than 7,500 accidents, leaks and spills related to fracking occurred in 2013, negatively impacting water quality in rivers, streams and shallow aquifers. There have also been more than 1,000 documented cases of water contamination near fracking sites around the country, although the process is still used to extract natural gas in spite of claims made against its impact.

Water for fracking operations is mixed with sand and toxic chemicals, including over 100 suspected endocrine disruptors and carcinogens (including lead, mercury and uranium), Food and Water Watch states. Also, giant holding ponds or tanks are needed to store the chemically contaminated waste water that comes back up the hole after wells have been fractured.


Besides the fracking chemicals, the fracturing process may release benzene into nearby water sources. Benzene is clear and has a sweet smell. It can be tasted once it reaches .5—4.5 parts per million. One ppm is equivalent to a single drop in 40 gallons of water.  However, Benzene is toxic in water at .005 ppm, which can’t be detected by taste or smell.

Because Benzene is found both naturally and as a result of industrial sources, people are exposed to small amounts of the chemical daily. However, when we are exposed to high quantities of Benzene, serious health problems can develop.  Drinking water contaminated by Benzene can cause stomach irritation, dizziness, sleepiness, convulsion, rapid heart rate, vomiting, or in extreme cases, coma or death.

Fracking technology has been in use for decades, but only recently has the industry developed the capacity to drill horizontally within the rock formations, which requires massive amounts of water and potentially toxic chemicals. But industry secrecy about the chemicals injected into the shale has made it difficult for scientists and government agencies to get the facts on health and environmental impacts of fracking.

Industry oversight

Individual states regulate fracturing that occurs within their borders, and they have different rules over the use of the process. The EPA says it is working with states and other key stakeholders to help ensure that natural gas extraction does not come at the expense of public health and the environment. According to the agency’s website:

“The Agency's focus and obligations under the law are to provide oversight, guidance and, where appropriate, rulemaking that achieve the best possible protections for the air, water and land where Americans live, work and play. The Agency is investing in improving our scientific understanding of hydraulic fracturing, providing regulatory clarity with respect to existing laws, and using existing authorities where appropriate to enhance health and environmental safeguards.”

New York, Vermont have already banned fracking and now California is contemplating a ban, thanks in great part to forward-thinking environmental protestors and community action groups.

FracTracker.org, a non-profit that launched in 2010, provides oil and gas maps for over 30 U.S. states with drilling activity. Simply click on your state to learn about fracking operations. These maps may include drilled wells, violations, proximity to vulnerable populations, pipelines and proposals, waste disposal sites, sand mining operations, and more.

Hydraulic Fracturing 101

Activists such as these, who are rapidly becoming more organized, larger and stronger, are busy gathering data and proof that fracking is not good for the environment – despite industry claims to the contrary.  Consider this innocent-sounding summary of fracking by Halliburton, a leader in the hydraulic fracturing industry:

  • “So how does this process actually work? Well, it starts with a good bit of water and a lot of sand. Mix those two together, apply a couple thousand pounds of pressure, and introduce them to a reservoir several thousand feet below, often with the help of a small percentage of additives that aid in delivering that solution down the hatch.”
[Incidentally, the “good bit of water” Halliburton refers to is actually a lot of water.  In south Texas, home to the hydraulically fractured Eagle Ford Formation, for example, the portion of water use for oil and gas well drilling and completion was 6 percent as of January 2012, compared to 64% for irrigation, and 17% for municipal use, according to Wikipedia.]
  • “Then physics takes over. The force of the water creates a network of tiny fissures in the impermeable rock. The flow of water acts as a delivery mechanism for the sand, which finds its way into those newly created cracks and holds them open. This creates passageways through which the previously trapped natural gas can travel to get to the wellbore. The fracturing process is now finished; on average, it takes 3 to 10 days to complete.”
  • “Now it's time for the operator to remove the water, clearing the way for the newly stimulated well to produce energy for the next 20, 30, 40, even 50 years. The trucks, the pumps, the equipment, and the traffic that were needed to do the job – they're long gone. The operator typically leaves a production valve and collection equipment behind. The rest of the site is remediated, often within 120 days.”

Fracking discovered in 1866

Halliburton is not alone in its praise of this new technology credited with bringing wealth and vitality to communities. In “A Brief History of Fracking,” Brian Hicks, investment director for the income and dividend newsletter The Wealth Advisory, explains how the concept of fracking is not new. It was devised in 1866 by Civil War veteran Col. Edward Roberts who patented the "Exploding Torpedo."

As the story goes, Roberts witnessed Confederate exploding artillery rounds plunging into the narrow millrace (canal) that obstructed a battlefield in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Roberts' observation gave him an idea that would evolve into what he described as "superincumbent fluid tamping."

“Nobody knew it at the time, but Roberts' "Exploding Torpedo" was the birth of the modern-day shale fracturing industry...”

Skip ahead to 2015 and “the U.S. now has 200 years' worth of natural gas… and is predicted to be the largest oil producer in the world by the end of the decade, thanks to fracking,” says Hicks.

“Oh, and by the way... because the United States is using more natural gas as a result of the fracking revolution, the country's CO2 emissions are at a six-year low...”

Fracking is good for the environment, Hicks concludes.

U.S. touted as fracking leader

Fracking is not, of course, limited to the United States. Citing U.S. shale-extraction success and energy revitalization, Japan and Algeria are among the most recent countries to begin fracking operations – also with heavy public opposition.

Hacina Zegzeg, a coordinator for a protest movement who lives and works in In Salah, Algeria, said in a January 2015 online Observer article that her group organized protests in 2014, but the debate cooled a bit because the government agreed to hold off beginning the extraction of shale gas until 2022.

“However, at the end of December last year, the prime minister came to inaugurate the country’s first drilling site, located about 28 kilometers from In Salah… And we had not even been warned about his visit. All this reignited the movement.”

Zegzeg said a shale gas mining operation poses a serious threat to her town because the groundwater table is fossilized, meaning that the water doesn’t replenish itself.

“We are at risk of having polluted water and running out of water entirely,” Zegzeg said.

Being proactive

So long as humans rely on fossil fuels and can find a way to get to it, this debate will continue. Meanwhile, freshwater sources dwindle worldwide. If you live in an area where fracking is ongoing or being considered, learn all you can. Have your water tested.  Contact your legislators to hold energy companies accountable for any contamination caused by fracking and to disclose the chemicals they use.

There's a lot of discontent brewing around the world and many are still trying to figure out if the Occupy Wall St. movement is something they can stand behind. Some are afraid to join the protests in fear of aligning themselves with a progressive movement rooted in leftist ideology. But the broad message that protesters around the world are sending is something almost all of us can agree on. Our financial system has evolved into a behemoth giant that needs to be slayed. Bankers and investors have played the system like it was a game of roulette and our lawmakers stood by and did nothing. And when the gamble failed, they bailed them out. Taxpayers are fed up. Jobs are on everyones' mind these days and massive unemployment has led many entrepreneurs to start small businesses. Supporting this growing segment of the population is a great way to boost the economy of the working class and help to sustain sorely needed jobs. So the next time you think about a trip to a big box store or an online purchase from Amazon.com, consider supporting your local businesses or small independent merchants on the web. Your purchases can help keep them from joining the unemployed.  Together we can create a more sustainable economy where small businesses can thrive. Isn't that something we all can get behind? Check out Highwater Filter's webstore for a wide variety of water treatment products for the home, travel, emergency preparedness, health and safety.
While New York State is poised to give the go ahead to new hydraulic fracking operations, lawyers are lining up to defend property owners who are reconsidering their leases, and for municipalities who want to keep fracking out of town despite New York State's Environmental Conservation Law (ECL) that bans local governments from regulating natural gas fracking. The township of Dryden, a rural suburb of Ithaca, NY, is challenging the law and contends that they are not regulating gas fracking by passing a ban within the borders of the town. Attorneys are licking their chops as the battles are sure to be contentious and expensive. There are also a number of residents in New York State who originally signed leases with gas company representatives who knocked on their doors and made attractive offers that many say were misleading at best. Others were just not aware of the risks to their water supply and were enticed by the monetary offers. Almost 5 years later, with leases about to expire, property owners are finding that their leases may be eligible for extensions without their approval because of legal procedures that are holding up operations. And there are quite a few folks out there who signed agreements that pay far less than more lucrative offers that some who lease their land are receiving. These people simply want out of their leases so they can renegotiate better deals. And finally in the news yesterday it was revealed that Frac Tech Intl. CEO, Marcus Rowland, received $24.4 million in compensation last year. As their name implies, Frac Tech provides hydro-fracturing services to large oil and gas companies. They just announced a name change, though. They took the word "Frac" out of their name. It must have been the negative connotation of the word "fracking."  They are now FTS International Inc. Much more generic. Wise move. If you aren't aware of the growing controversy over natural gas hydro-fracking, I highly recommend the movie Gasland, by Josh Fox. FrackAction is also on the front lines of fracking opposition and actor Mark Ruffalo has started a new group called Water Defense to help put a stop to hydro-fracking. Fracking causes horrible health problems, large amounts of contaminated water, and releases gases into the air that have knocked people unconscious. People's wells have been contaminated to the point where they can ignite the water coming out of the tap. The list of health related problems of people who have had their water contaminated is heart wrenching. Our water is too precious to risk contamination and our health too important to sacrifice for the easy money the gas companies are offering. For more info from the NYT: Signing Leases for Drilling, and Now Having Regrets

ThomsonRueters: Fracking lawsuit could set precedent for local drilling bans

WSJ: Energy Firm CEO Hits Pay Gusher

Say NO to Fracking, please.


California is poised to join New York State in imposing taxes on online purchases made in the state from retailers with a "presence" in California. This would be a huge blow to big online retailers like Amazon.com who have facilities and resellers around the country, including CA. Appropriately, HB 155, a bill to amend the tax code, is being touted as "the Amazon Bill." As a small start-up online retailer, I have mixed feelings about this direction state legislatures are taking in order to raise revenue (Hawaii, RI, and the Carolinas have all attempted similar legislation). Although I feel fortunate as a small business owner to be able to compete with giants like Amazon, I am wary of losing the edge that keeps me in the game. If they can tax a company based on a "presence", I'm not sure how that will be interpreted in the future. Some contend that simply having an ad or a link on another retailer's site could constitute an affiliation or presence. This could change the way many online retailers do business and will threaten the status quo. But some applaud this as a way to "level the playing field." For state governments to compel out-of-state retailers to charge and remit sales tax to the state where the purchaser resides is prohibited by the U.S. Constitution. But when big retailers expand their facilities to other parts of the country, they are required to charge state sales taxes in the states where they operate. Retailers up to now have found ways to circumvent the laws. Affiliate programs are one way they do it. By linking to affiliates in other states, and sharing a percentage of sales, online retailers can avoid the sticky business of taxing the consumer. But in New York, that loophole has been closed. A mere connection, or "nexus", is enough to compel an out-of-state retailer to pay state sales tax. Our states are all struggling now and finding new sources of revenue is a full-time preoccupation for some of our legislators. I've always thought that states were losing out by not being able to charge tax on online sales. I wasn't as versed on the Constitution as I am now. It would take a Constitutional amendment to compel companies to collect taxes for the state where the purchaser resides. I am not adamantly opposed to this idea, as long as it reaches across the board. I still feel that a small business like mine has an edge over small brick and mortar stores, and imposing online sales tax would not only help the states, but small locally owned shops. I have to support shopping locally. It matters. But to compel online retailers to charge taxes to out-of-state customers can't be done unless that pesky Constitution is changed. I doubt that is gonna happen anytime soon. But what do I know? I'm just a small fish in a big ocean who is glad that our founders were looking out for me, whether they realized what the impact of their actions would be, or not. For more info check out Forbes. Here's the Assembly Bill 155 An editorial in the Santa Cruz Sentinel supporting the bill. Thanks for reading!