NewsInferno; April 18, 2013
A milestone ruling in California has found that federal authorities broke the law when leasing land to frackers. Fracking is a process in which silica sand and hundreds of gallons of chemicals and water, are blasted deep into the earth’s underground wells to release natural gas.
The federal judge, in an April 8, 2013, ruling said that federal authorities at the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) violated the law by leasing government-controlled land to hydraulic frackers—natural gas and oil drilling companies—said PlanetSave. The leases, which were made without proper environmental oversight and fracking risk assessment, involve about 2,700 acres of land in California’s Monterey and Fresno counties.
In his April 8, 2013 decision, federal judge Paul Grewal wrote: “BLM argues that the effects of fracking on the parcels at issue are largely unknown. The court agrees, [and] this is precisely why proper investigation is so crucial,” according to PlanetSave.
“This important decision recognizes that fracking poses new, unique risks to California’s air, water, and wildlife that government agencies can’t ignore. This is a watershed moment—the first court opinion to find a federal lease sale invalid for failing to address the monumental dangers of fracking,” said Brendan Cummings, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD). The lawsuit was led by CBD and The Sierra Club, said PlanetSave.
Fracking critics have long argued that fracking devastates the environment and contaminates groundwater and underground water aquifers; this contaminates nearby and widespread fresh water supplies. Citizens, Monetery County officials, and local landowners strongly opposed the lease/sale as far back as 2011, saying that fracking would endanger the municipal water supply and expressing concerns that the fracking boom would affect their region, said PlanetSave. Agriculture is California’s biggest industry. In fact, Monterey County’s surrounding area is known as “America’s Salad Bowl” for its large lettuce, tomato, and other salad-like crops.
The BLM-leased lands would have shared the Salinas river watershed with the area’s farmers and wine growers; potential fracking fluid contamination of that water could risk the food provided to millions of Americans, PlanetSave noted. Fracking fluid contamination has been linked to water and air pollution in areas such as Wyoming and New York.
A recent study from the Colorado School of Public Health found evidence that fracking-related pollution contributes to neurological and respiratory illnesses and increased cancer risks in residents near fracking well sites, PlanetSave wrote.
We previously wrote that environmental researchers said they discovered greenhouse gases at excessive levels near Australia’s largest coal seam gas field, which is associated fracking. The discovery prompted calls to stop expansion of fracking there until researchers can understand if the practice is contributing to climate change. The report revealed methane, carbon dioxide, and other compounds at an excess of three times normal background levels.
Meanwhile, of all the health and environmental threats posed by fracking, one of the more dangerous may be that from silica sand, which is used in the millions of pounds at fracking sites in the United States, In fact, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) believes silica sand becoming airborne is putting thousands of well workers and those living downwind of an active well at serious risk of health problems. At least 4 million pounds of silica sand are used at a typical, active fracking well.
Ingesting too much silica sand can lead to silicosis, a dangerous and irreversible health complication that is marked by breathing trouble. The disease gets progressively worse and only preventative measures can be taken to avoid it altogether.