Environmental Justice – Oil Drill and Fracking

Oil fracking is a methodological process employed in the fracturing of rock by a pressurized liquid. Induced hydraulic fracturing or hydrofracturing technique pressurized water, sand and chemicals mixtures into wellbore to create small fractures in rock bedding (ENS, 2012). Perhaps, is fracturing an environmental hazard, or similar to the “Love Canal” story. According to Beck (1979) “Love Canal” is one of the most environmental tragedies in American history. The following excerpt from (Beck, 1979) is indicative of the environmental hazard that follows, when science lacks regulatory and sound purview. “But that’s not the most disturbing fact. What is worse is that it cannot be regarded as an isolated event. It could happen again–anywhere in this country–unless we move expeditiously to prevent it. It is a cruel irony that Love Canal was originally meant to be a dream community. That vision belonged to the man for whom the three-block tract of land on the eastern edge of Niagara Falls, New York, was named–William T. Love. Love felt that by digging a short canal between the upper and lower Niagara Rivers, power could be generated cheaply to fuel the industry and homes of his would-be model city. But despite considerable backing, Love’s project was unable to endure the one-two punch of fluctuations in the economy and Nikola Tesla’s discovery of how to economically transmit electricity over great distances by means of an alternating current. By 1910, the dream was shattered. All that was left to commemorate Love’s hope was a partial ditch where construction of the canal had begun. In the 1920s, the seeds of a genuine nightmare were planted. The canal was turned into a municipal and industrial chemical dumpsite. Landfills can of course be an environmentally acceptable method of hazardous waste disposal, assuming they are properly sited, managed, and regulated. Love Canal will always remain a perfect historical example of how not to run such an operation. In 1953, the Hooker Chemical Company, then the owners and operators of the property, covered the canal with earth and sold it to the city for one dollar. It was a bad buy….” (Beck, 1979, p.1).

The above excerpt resonates very strongly with fracking technology. Fracturing is an ongoing process in many countries for oil drilling process. Many of these locations have been transformed into chemical field zones. Regardless of the dangers fracking technique poses, some States such as Ohio, sees fracking as the best niche for economic stimulus. While others categorize fracking as an irreversible environmental corruption. For instance, since the epoch-making and expansion of fracking technology, Texas environmentally friendly hills, landscapes etc. have been transformed into environmental hazardous zones (ENS, 2012). “Science of the Total Environment,” showed that population near fracking industries are exposed to increased and unparalleled health risks due to benzene, hexane and other toxic chemicals including methane, which are released into the atmosphere through fracking process (ENS, 2012).

Although carbon dioxide is the most abundant greenhouse gas, methane is a potent greenhouse gas. Its effect on global warming is about 20 times more potent in trapping the Sun’s heat than carbon dioxide (ENS, 2012). Therefore, an increase in fracking process eventually increases the ratio of methane in the atmosphere. Each year, about 13,000 new and existing natural gas lines are fractured or re-fractured (ENS, 2012). Clearly, the process of fracking produces emit volatile organic compounds, contributing to increase in smog formation, air pollutants and carcinogens such as benzene and hexane (ENS, 2012).

According to Earthworks (2010), in central Texas and in Fort Worth; there are more than 1,100 oil wells within the city limits, and 100 new wells’ permits are authorized every month (Earthworks, 2010). In addition, there are more than 9,000 wells located in surrounding counties, and additional 5,000 wells have been approved (Earthworks, 2010). Some of these oil wells and pipelines are located very close to residential communities. More importantly, endangered communities, such as the Tandy Hills, Greenbelt and other native prairie lands which are being turned into industrialized landscapes (Earthworks, 2010). In addition, fracking poses a serious public health threat to drinking water and several lakes such as Lake Worth (Earthworks, 2010). Furthermore, underground water contamination and soil degradation has been associated with fracking process (Finkel and Law, 2011).

There is no doubt that fracking technologies such as horizontal drilling is economically feasible for gas extraction. However, the technique poses environment health and public health threats (Finkel and Law, 2010). Furthermore, many chemicals used in fracking can damage many organs in the body such as the lungs, liver, kidneys, blood, and brain. Interestingly, fracking companies are not legally required to disclose all the chemicals used in fracking processes or techniques. For this reason, it is almost impossible to assess the full scope of the contents of fracking chemical and its toxicity or threat to environmental or public health (ENS, 2012).

Accordingly, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and the Susquehanna River Basin Commission Material Safety Data Sheets conducted a study with 41 known products used in the fracturing process. Based on the study, 73% of the products are directly associated with 6 to 14 different adverse health events (Finkel and Law, 2011). Some of the health impacts are not limited to skin or eye irritation, sensory organ damage; respiratory disease (asthma), gastrointestinal disease, liver disease; brain and nervous system impairments, cancer, and reproductive impairments (Finkel and Law, 2011). In addition, hydro-fracking fluid and flow-back fluids contains endocrine disruptors, which may alter developmental pathways and epigenetic pathways (Finkel and Law, 2011).

More importantly, in the concern of fracking process, is the re-emergence of discussions regarding the German theory of oil production called abiogenesis. German scientists have long believed that artificially manufactured hydrocarbons into oil and gasoline through natural processes is possible. However, it is hard to forget the facts and decisions around using alcohol as a universal “clean” fuel. From 1930s-1940s, the entire German economy was alcohol-fuel based. Unfortunately, these industries were dismantled after WWII.

Based on these facts, it is critical to establish and implement sustainable risk management standards and conduct thorough research to assess the level of fracking safety. In addition, immediate watchdog standard including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) strict purview should be implemented in any region or country that allows fracking techniques (Guynup, 2013). Therefore, communicating risk management and engaging invested stakeholders effectively, provides effective strategies, collaborations, empowerment on this critical public and environmental health threat; an engaging situation that demands a transparent and environmentally friendly strategies.


Earthworks. (2010). A new watchdog for Texas’ shale gas drilling industry.  Retrieved on from http:// www.earthworksaction.org/media/detail/a_new_watchdog_for_texas_shale_ gas_drilling_industry#.Uvpj886Yb4g

Guynup, S. (2013). Air Pollution destroys health of Texas fracking communities.  Retrieved from http://ens-newswire.com/2013/09/20/air-pollution-destroys-health-of-texas-fracking-communities/

Environmental News Service. (ENS). (2012). First national fracking air emissions standard set by U.S. EPA.  Retrieved from http://ens-newswire.com/2012/04/19/first-national-fracking-air-emissions-standard-set-by-u-s-epa/

Finkel, M. L and Law, A. (2011). The rush to drill for natural gas: A public health cautionary tale.  American Journal of Public Health, 101(6), 784-785. Retrieved from http://ajph. aphapublications.org/doi/abs/10.2105/AJPH.2010.300089