Fracking, Farming and Food

I’m sure many people have heard the term fracking in the media lately. So what is fracking and how does it impact our lives and our food system?

Fracking is a term used for hydraulic fracturing, which is a method used to obtain natural gas from shale rock. In order to access the natural gas, large amounts of water, mixed with sand and chemicals are pumped into the ground under pressure in order to fracture the shale rock below the surface. Once the shale rock is cracked, natural gas flows into wells through the created fractures (1).

How does fracking affect us?

There are many detrimental impacts of fracking such as vast amounts of water being used, up to as much as 18 million gallons of water per fracking. The large amount of water consumed by fracking takes away the ability to use fresh water for other means such as agriculture. However, fracking can also affect communities as highlighted in an article describing a  community well gone dry due to drought and fracking (2).

Fracking also produces large amounts of contaminated water, and although some of the water can be recycled, there still remains a large quantity of contaminated fluid that must be disposed of. This fluid is often just pumped back into the ground and sealed, which sounds like an accident waiting happen, as this method has also been speculated to cause seismic activity where this practice has occurred. Thus a leak is resulting in spilled contaminated water is likely to occur (3).

What is the impact on food and economy?

The pollutants mixed in the water are known carcinogens, such as mercury, uranium, and radium. Contaminated water can leak into the environment through accidental spills, or faulty wells, but can also occur as contaminated water leaches out through the system and into the local supply (4).

Livestock that have come into contact with this water have had serious adverse effects such as difficulty breeding and higher rates of birth defects and stillborn calves. However, contact with fracking fluids has also led to death in livestock . I think it would be safe to assume that this effect on livestock could also translate into health complications to humans who come into contact with this fluid (5).

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Fracking also hurts local farmers and the economy, as the gains from fracking are only temporary. Unlike farming which can be sustained over time, fracking halts once the available natural gases are obtained. In the process of fracking if the local land is also damaged, it can no longer be used as a source for producing healthy food. I think it would also be safe to assume that food produced on contaminated land would have a detrimental impact on health.

Fracking can also affect the local ecology; for instance, if a local fishing stream were to become contaminated through fracking, this potential food source would no longer be available to the community. Roads built for transport further degrade the land and displace other wildlife that may be used as a food source.

 

Author: Aubrey Bergen. Nursing Student, Dalhousie University.

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2 thoughts on “Fracking, Farming and Food

  1. Interesting article. I’m working on fracking in NS for my masters project and I noticed a few things that were not true for our province. 1) Fracking uses much less water than agriculture and the amount withdrawn would not impact NS because we get lots of precipitation here. 2) Water would be taken from above ground sources here (streams, lakes etc) so there is no hazard to drying up wells. 3) We do not do underground storage of wastewater in NS. The water is now recycled by Atlantic Industrial Services who remove the chemicals and NORMs to environmentally safe levels. 4) Leaks are not statistically likely to occur. Especially if infrastructure is correctly built and again no underground storage in NS, so no earthquakes. Also, NS is looking at underground storage of carbon which can also cause earthquakes but no one is upset about that. Additionally seismic events if they did occur, are local and small in scale. 5) Compared to conventional oil and gas techniques, fracking is much less destructive to the environment and restoration and remediation of sites is quite effective.

    Sure, surface spills happen on occasion, but this leaching through the system would actually help to remove some of the chemicals from entering water systems as chemicals sorb to soil. I can’t argue about effects on livestock consuming frack fluid other than to question how they consumed pure frack fluid, which is 99% water. It seems unlikely that humans would consume pure frack fluid either. And yes, roads are destructive but not compared to urban expansion or new developments which are being proposed in large blocks of urban forest within HRM.

    You are completely right by questioning the effects of boomtowns and temporary economic boosts. NS neither has the pipeline capacity or a natural gas refinery, so most of the gas produced would have to be shipped elsewhere, having little economic effects for most Nova Scotians.

    I would like to conclude by saying that I am not a fracking advocate or supporter’ but neither am I against it completely. I have done quite a lot of literature and media sources, seeing things biased from both sides of the debate. I just believe that people should have all the facts from balanced news sources before making a decision.

  2. Dear Masters Student,
    My name is Jennifer West and I have also done a lot of research on fracking. I am a professional geologist working in Nova Scotia, and am actively involved in the grassroots fracking movement. Some of your comments were a bit surprising to me, so I want to speak to them one at a time. You say that “fracking uses much less water than agriculture and the amount withdrawn would not impact NS because we get lots of precipitation here”. Water used for agriculture goes back to the water cycle and can be reused, which is not the case for fracking waste water. Also, I am not aware of any report that supports a link between high precipitation rates mitigating the removal of millions of litres of surface water for fracking. In fact, my research has shown three key risks associated with water use in the shale industry: competition for water; exposure to groundwater-stressed regions, and; exposure to regions experiencing drought (Ceres, Water Demand by the numbers). You say that “water would be taken from above ground sources here (streams, lakes etc) so there is no hazard to drying up wells.” It is my understanding that when you alter one part of the water cycle (ex. Removing 1.3 million of litres of water per day, from the Kennetcook River, as Triangle proposed), that other parts of the water cycle will respond over time. One way or another, well users will be impacted by the water use associated with fracking when their surface wells (from lakes and streams) or groundwater wells respond to this impact. You mention that “Atlantic Industrial Services removes the chemicals and NORMs to environmentally safe levels.” This kind of statement is being contested by hundreds of community members in Debert, Kennetcook and Brookfield who are worried about the chemicals in the waste ponds which do not have guidelines associated with them but which have adverse health impacts associated with them. AIS might treat of the chemicals to within guidelines, but there aren’t guidelines for all of them. You say that “Leaks are not statistically likely to occur” but this is flat out untrue. Leaks are statistically expected by industry, who reports that 7% of wells leak within the first year of construction and 60% of wells leak 30 years after construction (http://thetyee.ca/News/2013/01/09/Leaky-Fracked-Wells/). Finally, you say that “fracking is much less destructive to the environment and restoration and remediation of sites is quite effective.” Yes, well pads have a small physical footprint on the land, but cumulatively large regions of forest and farmland are removed to enable roads to access those hundreds of well pads. Diesel exhaust that comes from the thousands of trucks accessing each well, can lead to air quality in rural areas that is worse than industrial and urban cities. Natural gas produced by fracking is dirtier than coal or oil (http://www.eeb.cornell.edu/howarth/web/Marcellus.html) Fracking is a very complex and multi-faceted issue. It isn’t as simple as the lonely well pad at the surface producing natural gas. If you ever want to expand the research you are doing on fracking in this province, I would be happy to share with you the hundreds of peer-reviewed studies that support a moratorium on fracking in Nova Scotia.

    Jennifer

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