Can hydrofracking affect the plants and animals we eat?
That’s the question I explore in the current issue of The Nation, which can be read online here. (And here’s a clip of me talking about the article on the Heritage Radio Network.) Thanks to support from the Food and Environment Reporting Network, I was able to spend a fair amount of time looking into the illnesses and deaths of livestock that live (and eat and breathe) in close proximity to shale-gas wells, which rely on secret combinations of hundreds of different chemicals, many of which are considered toxic, carcinogenic, teratogenic, or mutagenic. I spoke with ranchers whose animals died suddenly of asphyxiation or pulmonary edema, gave birth to deformed or stillborn offspring, lost between 60 and 80 pounds a week, quit producing milk for calves, lost half their tails, developed lesions and infections, and died of massive organ failure. The story raises many questions: are drilling and fracking operations sickening livestock? Can people who eat those animals get sick? Unfortunately, we don’t yet have the answers because:
a) these studies haven’t been funded
b) industry doesn’t reveal all the chemicals it uses to drill and frack
c) complete pre-drilling information on water, air and soil quality is rarely available
d) livestock owners are often reticent, or outright forbidden by nondisclosure agreements, to speak to investigators
My hope for the story is that government will respond to the concerns of ranchers, veterinarians, and scientists; require full disclosure of chemicals and compounds used in oil-and-gas operations; and allocate funds to conduct these much-needed studies.
Photo of cow that lost part of its tail — one of many ailments found in cattle following hydrofracturing of the Bakken Shale in North Dakota — courtesy of Jacki Schilke.