As the nation moves into the age of fracking, concerns over the food supply are surfacing, with environmentalist pointing to cases of livestock falling victim to fracking water contamination, giving birth to stillborn calves and cases of contaminated soil destroying vegetation.
In 2010, cows grazing in a Pennsylvania pasture were exposed to drilling waste from a nearby fracking site. Before the spill was discovered, more than 25 cows were exposed to the toxic liquid. According to National Public Radio, the hoof marks of 28 beef cattle were discovered near the spill.
The toxic liquid contained magnesium, iron, sulfate, chloride, barium and strontium. Its exposure with soil wiped out all vegetation it touched. According to the report, all cows exposed were taken aside and quarantined, a move East Resources, the company responsible, attempted to halt. A follow-up report in 2011 revealed that the exposed cows gave birth to 11 cows — only three survived.
“It’s abominable,” Carol Johnson, farmer and owner of the cows told NRP. “They were born dead or extremely weak. It’s highly unusual. I might lose one or two calves a year, but I don’t lose eight out of 11.”
The spill resulted in a $36,000 fine for East Resources, but the company continues to operate.
Issues like this are what concerned residents in oil-rich states are pointing to, using such cases as a basis for what they see as proof that there is at least a need for environmental impact studies to be completed before the industry goes any further. The death of vegetation and livestock, presumably resulting from exposure to fracking fluid, is being seen as a threat to the nation’s food supply.
“Farmers, whose livelihoods depend on the health of the land, face especially stark choices,” Food and Water Watch says in its most recent report on the issue, “Fracking and the Food System.” “Many have leased their land to gas companies with the promise of gas royalty payments and minimal ecological impact. Given the risks associated with fracking, however, there is much at stake.”
The report cited a Penn State Extension study that looked at the impact on dairy cows living near fracking operations in Pennsylvania. It monitored counties with more than 150 fracking wells and more than 10,000 dairy cows. It concluded a decline in the dairy cow population of 16 percent between 2007 and 2010 for those living near drill sites. Those not living near oil sites saw the population drop 3 percent.
The study didn’t conclude that exposure to wells caused contamination among dairy cows, but did show how fracking, in part, is impacting America’s farming system. Food and Water Watch indicates that more than 1,000 cases of contamination near fracking sites have been identified so far.
Aside from contamination concerns, there are also concerns over fracking’s use of water intended for agricultural operations. That’s a concern for those living on the Monterey Shale in California, home to the nation’s largest supply of oil — and some of the nation’s finest vineyards. The shale formation has 15 billion barrels worth of crude oil, and is a target of the oil industry.
The federal government leased portions of the shale formation to oil companies, prompting California farmers to rally together with Sierra Club and other environmental organizations to sue the government. The farmers won, but the fight isn’t over yet. The lawsuit states and environmental impact statement must be completed before leases can be negotiated — and that’s still up in the air.
One fracking well, which can be fracked roughly 10 times, uses roughly 4 million gallons of water, enough to cause the state’s $10 billion agriculture industry to look at the new fracking industry as a potential threat to its own.