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Issue No. 15 - September 1, 2013

1. Arsenic found in groundwater near Texas fracking sites

Fracking Arsenic
A recent addition to ProPublica's excellent series of articles on fracking is this interview with the authors of a new study, An Evaluation of Water Quality in Private Drinking Water Wells Near Natural Gas Extraction Sites in the Barnett Shale Formation, published by the University of Texas at Arlington.

The researchers sampled water from wells in the Barnett Shale area of Texas, on lands near and far from gas drilling sites drilling activity, and tested the water for heavy metals and the chemicals known to be used in hydraulic fracturing from the list released by a US congressional committee. The samples were compared to historical water quality data from the area prior to gas drilling.

The study found arsenic levels in groundwater within 3 km of gas installations at levels nearly 18 times higher than in groundwater tested at distances further than 3 km from gas wells or in the historical data. Arsenic, selenium, and strontium were found in numerous samples at levels exceeding the EPA's maximum contaminate limit for drinking water. Other contaminants such as barium, methanol and ethanol were also found.

Arsenic was also found in the groundwater in Pavillion, Wyoming, in a study undertaken by the US EPA in Pavillion, Wyoming. The draft of this EPA study was published in 2011, but the study was later abandoned. It has been turned over to the state of Wyoming, which has in turn entrusted it to the gas company EnCana, the same company that performs fracking in the area.

As noted in SGBI No. 14, the US EPA also abandoned a 2012 study in Pennsylvania that linked groundwater contamination by methane migration to hydraulic fracturing.

2. Silica health hazard for fracking workers

Silica Exposure at Fracking Sites

Crystalline silica ("frac sand") is used in the hydraulic fracturing process as a proppant to hold open the fissures caused in the shale rock and allow the shale gas or oil to be released. Each well is fracked in 12 to 20 stages, and at each stage hundreds of thousands of pounds of frac sand is required. For all zones of a well, millions of pounds may be required. The handling of this sand creates airborne dust, which could potentially cause health problems for workers.

This article, from the
American National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), explains the health risks associated with occupational exposure to respirable crystalline silica, which include lung cancer, pulmonary tuberculosis, autoimmune disorders and chronic renal disease.
A new study, Occupational Exposures to Respirable Crystalline Silica During Hydraulic Fracturing, published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene, examines the risks of silica exposure to workers engaged in hydraulic fracturing. Researchers for the NIOSH tested the air breathed by workers at 11 hydraulic fracturing sites in five states. At each site, full-shift samples exceeded occupational health exposure limits, sometimes by as much as 10 times.

This Bloomberg article explains the findings of the study, which were announced by the American Industrial Hygiene Association on July 31, 2013.

3. Two energy futures

Two Energy Futures
As this EcoWatch article reports, The UK Tar Sands Network has set up a new website, Two Energy Futures, an interactive resource that allows users to visualise two very different energy futures, for the year 2035.

One is the Fossil-Fueled Future, based on International Energy Agency predictions of what the future holds if governments and fossil fuel companies keep their current promises. This best-case scenario is expected to result in a rise in global temperatures of at least 4 - 6 degrees Celsius this century.

The other is the Cleaner Fairer Future, which is based on two sources: Zero Carbon Britain: Rethinking the Future (Centre for Alternative Technology), and Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air (Dr. David MacKay).
In this vision of the future, renewable energies are used in a way that is more equitable and environmentally sensitive than at present, and no fossil fuels are burnt, including for transport and heat. CO2 emissions are therefore drastically reduced, giving humanity "a good chance of avoiding runaway climate change".

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