Watch our Fracking Web Chat with the amazing Sandra Steingraber as part of our Prevention Speaks series.
Sandra has written three critically acclaimed books exploring the connections between health and the environment: Living Downstream, Keeping Faith and Raising Elijah. For the past several years, she has been on the frontlines of the movement oppose fracking due to its public health and social implications.
A Q&A with Breast Cancer Fund Director of Science Sharima Rasanayagam
What do you see as the biggest problem with fracking?
We’re in an uncontrolled experiment. We know, from a Congressional investigation, that companies sometimes use carcinogens such as benzene, formaldehyde, ethylene oxide in fracking, but companies do not share their use of these chemicals with nearby communities. It’s a huge right to know issue, we don’t know which chemicals are being used when and companies should not be able to put carcinogens into our environment.
What else concerns you?
As well as the chemicals used in the fracking fluid itself, there is the waste water that comes back out, called flowback water. This can be contaminated not only with fracking chemicals but also with chemicals, including radioactive compounds, that naturally occur deep underground but are now in the waste water which needs to be disposed of safely.
Who is affected by fracking?
Primarily rural communities who face fracking in their own backyards, but urban communities may be affected as well because of contamination of downstream groundwater sources. Rural communities are also adversely impacted by the industrialization of their local environment including a huge influx of diesel machinery and vehicles and the air pollution they bring.
What is the Halliburton loophole?
The Energy Policy Act of 2005, a bill signed into law by George W. Bush, offered tax incentives and other programs for energy production. The bill created a loophole, also known in advocacy circles as the Halliburton loophole, which exempted fluids used in fracking from protections under the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act. This means that companies do not have to disclose the chemicals involved in fracking that would normally be required under federal laws. It is called the Halliburton loophole because of former Halliburton CEO Dick Cheney’s role in passing the legislation.
What do you think has been lost in media coverage of fracking?
I think a lot of the attention to fracking has focused on the economic effects rather than the environmental and health effects. That’s probably because people think there are things like the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act to protect people and their environments. The short-term economic realities have mainly driven decision making so far.
There’s obviously a lot of powerful interests and money at play here. How do you think change can happen in spite of all that?
Changing the federal law would be a big hurdle to overcome because there’s an entrenched industry that’s quite happy being exempt from federal environmental provisions. In a number of states they are asking for either moratoriums on fracking until they know more, or for disclosure of all chemicals that are going into their water supplies. It doesn’t seem like a lot to ask.
I have great respect for Sandra Steingraber and her push to stop fracking. Because of people like her there are ongoing efforts throughout the country by state and local governments to stop fracking, at least until we know more, including more than 170 New York towns and cities.
What can people do about it?
Add your voice to the rising chorus of people concerned about this issue. Tell your representatives in Congress that you have a right to know about toxic fracking chemicals being released in your own backyards. The Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act (FRAC Act) would remove the exemption for fracking from the Safe Drinking Water Act and require disclosure of the chemicals used in fracking wells.
Anything else to add?
In California, as we face one of the worst droughts on record, we need to be aware of how much water we’re using for fracking. Fracking contaminates water, and the millions of gallons of water used to frack a well can’t be used for anything else.
About Sharima Rasanayagam, Ph.D., Director of Science
As the director of science, Sharima oversees the Breast Cancer Fund’s science-related activities, including monitoring and interpreting emerging research, and developing and managing science-related program and policy initiatives. She also serves on the advisory committee of the California Breast Cancer Research Program, the largest state-funded breast cancer research effort. Sharima holds a Ph.D. in microbiology from the University of Kent at Canterbury, U.K.