2951985331Ever fill up your water bottle from the stations in Lau,Leavey or Yates? We can all appreciate that crisp, clean water. Now imagine the water smells like benzene, and when you hold a lighter to it, the water bursts into flames. While my hypothetical may sound like science fiction, in areas close to fracking sites, contaminated tap water can be set on fire just like that.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a hotly debated method of extracting natural gas from the ground. The process involves injecting water, sand and various chemicals deep underground at high pressures to crack open shale formations containing natural gas.

Facing pressure from the oil and gas industry, the U.S. Forest Service is currently reconsidering its stance against fracking in the George Washington National Forest.

The GW Forest lies in the watershed of the Potomac and James Rivers, which supply drinking water to over 4.5 million residents of the Northern Virginia, Washington, D.C. and Richmond areas.

It is feared that the U.S. Forest Service may succumb to corporate pressures and begin allowing gas companies to frack the forest. The gas industry has cunningly deceived us into thinking that natural gas is a form of clean energy, and cleaner methods of fracking will soon be developed. However, is it possible for fracking to ever truly be clean? To answer this, we must consider the science of fracking.

The health hazards of this process are alarming. Many of the chemicals used in fracking are toxic and carcinogenic, and dumping fracking fluid causes heavy metals, such as lead, uranium and mercury, to pollute groundwater reservoirs. In fact, the Environmental Protetcion Agency recently deemedfracking the culprit of the groundwater pollution in Pavillion, Wyo. (NBC News, “EPA: ‘Fracking’ Likely Polluted Town’s Water”, Dec. 8, 2011). The EPA found benzenes and other hydrocarbons in the town’s drinking water. These water contaminants are extremely hazardous to human health, causing respiratory distress, neurological damage, seizures and organ failure.

Moreover, the environmental threats are astronomical. Fracking releases methane gas into the atmosphere. Though dismissed by the gas industry as an inconsequential amount of leakage, methane contributes significantly to global warming since it is 70 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. To make matters worse, evaporating fracking fluid waste releases volatile organic compounds into the atmosphere, contributing to acid rain and ground level ozone.

There is no safe way to frack; the process itself is inherently destructive.

If the forest service allows the gas industry to frack the GW Forest, Georgetown students will be directly affected, as it could potentially contaminate our groundwater sources with fracking fluid waste.

But the question remains: Why should we care? How could a little groundwater pollution affect a community?
To answer these questions, we need not look farther than the testimonials of those whose communities have already been affected by fracking.

Judy Armstrong Stiles of Bradford County, Pa., tells of finding barium and arsenic in her drinking water, and then in her own blood, after drilling began on her land. Within a month, Judy and her husband Carl began experiencing peeling skin rashes, dizzy spells and stomach pains. When their daughter moved back home, she too began suffering from severe health issues, including daily seizures and lead poisoning.

Similarly, truck driver Randy Moyer of Portage Township, Pa., suffered severe swelling of the face and extremities, burning rashes, cardiac dysrhythmias, blurry vision and memory loss after cleaning truck tanks that transported fracking fluid. He claimed he and his coworkers were not provided material safety data sheets or training for any of the fracking fluids they were physically handling.

Our drinking water, health and scenic national forest are too high a price to pay for fracked gas. Listen to what these people are telling us about the tragedy of dirty drilling. Don’t wait to take action until our tap water becomes flammable. If we prevent fracking in the George Washington National Forest now, perhaps Georgetown’s students will be spared these tragedies.

HAGER KORAYM is a junior in the College. She is an intern for
Environment America.

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