Monday, August 18, 2014

Is Fracking Contaminating U.S. Livestock? / Study suggests hydrofracking is killing farm animals, pets / Livestock falling ill in fracking regions / 16 Cattle Drop Dead Near Mysterious Fluid at Gas Drilling Site

Jim Hudelson/The (Shreveport) Times

Is Fracking Contaminating U.S. Livestock?

Monday, December 03, 2012

Like canaries sent into coal mines to warn of breathing hazards, livestock in areas where hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) is occurring are getting sick and dropping dead in alarming numbers,
 according to the only peer-reviewed scientific study of the impact of fracking on animals.
And if cattle are getting sick because of fracking, what about the health of people who later drink their milk or eat their flesh?
The study, authored by Prof. Robert Oswald of Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and practicing veterinarian Michele Bamberger, compiles case studies of 24 farmers in 6 states whose livestock experienced neurological, reproductive and acute gastrointestinal problems after exposure to fracking chemicals in the water or air.
The case studies include 17 Louisiana cows that died of respiratory failure after an hour’s exposure to spilled fracking fluid; 70 Pennsylvania cows that died after 140 of them were exposed to fracking wastewater from an impoundment breach; and a Pennsylvania herd whose pregnant cows had a 50% rate of stillborn calves after grazing in a pasture contaminated by fracking chemicals from an overflowing waste pit.
Fracking a single well requires up to 7 million gallons of water, as well as an additional 400,000 gallons of additives. A 2011 study compiled a list of 632 chemicals used in natural-gas production and determined that 75% could affect the skin, eyes, other sensory organs, and the respiratory and gastrointestinal systems; 40-50% could affect the brain/nervous system, immune and cardiovascular systems, and the kidneys; 37% could affect the endocrine system; and 25% could cause cancer and mutations.
Cattle that die on the farm aren’t supposed to get into the nation’s food system, but herd mates that look healthy, despite being exposed to the same toxins, do. “They’re making their way into the food system, and it’s very worrisome to us,” Bamberger explains. “They live in areas that have tested positive for air, water and soil contamination. Some of these chemicals could appear in milk and meat products made from these animals.”
Although there have been few cattle deaths so far, some institutions that specialize in risk management have begun to see the pattern and take action. For example, Nationwide Mutual Insurance, which sells agricultural insurance, has announced that it will not cover damages related to fracking, and Rabobank, the world’s largest agricultural bank, is said to no longer sell mortgages to farmers with gas leases. Some farmers whose land sits atop the Marcellus shale are migrating to land outside that fracking zone, causing shifts in land prices.
If insurance companies won’t insure losses from fracking, and farmers and ranchers don’t want to raise food in fracking zones, should consumers beware of eating it?
-Matt Bewig
To Learn More:
Fracking Our Food Supply (by Elizabeth Royte, Food and Environment Reporting Network)
Impacts of Gas Drilling on Animal and Human Health (by Michele Bamberger and Robert Oswald, New Solutions) (pdf)

March 7, 2012

Study suggests hydrofracking is killing farm animals, pets

A new report has found dozens of cases of illness, death and reproductive issues in cows, horses, goats, llamas, chickens, dogs, cats, fish and other wildlife, and humans. It says these conditions could be the result of exposure to gas drilling operations.

Hydraulic fracturing, popularly called hydrofracking, is a process for extracting natural gas from shale using chemicals and water.

The paper's authors, Robert Oswald, a professor of molecular medicine at Cornell's College of Veterinary Medicine, and veterinarian Michelle Bamberger, DVM '85, interviewed animal owners in six states -- Colorado, Louisiana, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas -- and cited 24 cases where animals were potentially affected by gas drilling.

According to the study, recently published online and appearing soon in print, in New Solutions: A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health Policy, making a direct link between death and illness is not possible due to incomplete testing, proprietary secrecy from gas drilling companies regarding the chemicals used in hydrofracking, and non-disclosure agreements that seal testimony and evidence when lawsuits are settled.

"We have a number of case studies -- they don't tell us about the prevalence of problems associated with hydraulic fracturing, but they do tell us how things can happen," said Oswald.
Some of the case studies include:
  • In Louisiana, 17 cows died within an hour of direct exposure to hydraulic fracturing fluid. A necropsy report listed respiratory failure with circulatory collapse as the most likely cause of death.
  • A farmer separated his herd of cows into two groups: 60 were in a pasture with a creek where hydrofracking wastewater was allegedly dumped; 36 were in separate fields without creek access. Of the 60 cows exposed to the creek water, 21 died and 16 failed to produce calves the following spring. None of the 36 cows in separated fields had health problems, though one cow failed to breed in the spring.
  • Another farmer reported that 140 of his cows were exposed to hydrofracking fluid when wastewater impoundment was allegedly slit, and the fluid drained into a pasture and a pond. "These farmers saw workers slitting the liner to decrease the amount of liquid in the impoundment in order to refill it," said Bamberger. "We have heard it now on several occasions." Of the 140 cows, about 70 died, and there were high incidences of stillborn and stunted calves.
The authors note that the "most striking finding" of their study was how difficult it was to get solid information on the link between hydrofracking and health effects.
To provide better assessments of health impacts, the researchers recommend:
  • prohibiting nondisclosure agreements when public health is at stake;
  • increasing food safety testing and research, as the study documented that animals exposed to chemicals were not tested prior to slaughter, and little is known about the effects of hydrofracking chemicals on meat and dairy products;
  • improving the monitoring of routes of exposure, including in water, soil and air; and, most importantly,
  • fully testing the air, water, soil and animals prior to drilling and at regular intervals after drilling is completed, and disclosing fully the chemicals used when hydrofracking.
"Without knowledge of all the chemicals being used, you can't test before drilling," said Bamberger. "And if we don't have predrilling tests then if you find a chemical postdrilling, how can you prove that" it came from hydrofracking, she added.

Livestock falling ill in fracking regions

By Investigations
Thursday Nov 29, 2012 1:08 PM
Jacki Schilke:  This cow on Jacki Schilke's ranch in northeast North Dakota lost most of its tail, one of many ailments that afflicted her cattle after hydrofracturing, or fracking, began in the nearby Bakken Shale.

By Elizabeth Royte, Food & Environment Reporting Network
In the midst of the domestic energy boom, livestock on farms near oil- and gas-drilling operations nationwide have been quietly falling sick and dying. While scientists have yet to isolate cause and effect, many suspect chemicals used in drilling and hydrofracking (or “fracking”) operations are poisoning animals through the air, water or soil.
Earlier this year, Michelle Bamberger, an Ithaca, N.Y., veterinarian, and Robert Oswald, a professor of molecular medicine at Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine, published the first and only peer-reviewed report to suggest a link between fracking and illness in food animals.
The authors compiled 24 case studies of farmers in six shale-gas states whose livestock experienced neurological, reproductive and acute gastrointestinal problems after being exposed — either accidentally or incidentally — to fracking chemicals in the water or air.
The article, published in “New Solutions: A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health,” describes how scores of animals died over the course of several years. Fracking industry proponents challenged the study, since the authors neither identified the farmers nor ran controlled experiments to determine how specific fracking compounds might affect livestock.

The death toll is insignificant when measured against the nation’s livestock population (some 97 million beef cattle go to market each year), but environmental advocates believe these animals constitute an early warning.

Exposed livestock “are making their way into the food system, and it’s very worrisome to us,” Bamberger said. “They live in areas that have tested positive for air, water and soil contamination. Some of these chemicals could appear in milk and meat products made from these animals.”

In Louisiana, 17 cows died after an hour’s exposure to spilled fracking fluid, which is injected miles underground to crack open and release pockets of natural gas. The most likely cause of death: respiratory failure.

In New Mexico, hair testing of sick cattle that grazed near well pads found petroleum residues in 54 of 56 animals.

In northern central Pennsylvania, 140 cattle were exposed to fracking wastewater when an impoundment was breached. Approximately 70 cows died, and the remainder produced only 11 calves, of which three survived.

In western Pennsylvania, an overflowing wastewater pit sent fracking chemicals into a pond and a pasture where pregnant cows grazed: Half their calves were born dead. Dairy operators in shale-gas areas of Colorado, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Texas have also reported the death of goats exposed to fracking chemicals.

Drilling and fracking a single well requires up to 7 million gallons of water, plus an additional 400,000 gallons of additives, including lubricants, biocides, scale- and rust-inhibitors, solvents, foaming and defoaming agents, emulsifiers and de-emulsifiers, stabilizers and breakers. At almost every stage of developing and operating an oil or gas well, chemicals and compounds can be introduced into the environment.

Cows lose weight, dieAfter drilling began just over the property line of Jacki Schilke’s ranch in the northwestern corner of North Dakota in 2009, in the heart of the state’s booming Bakken Shale, cattle began limping, with swollen legs and infections. Cows quit producing milk for their calves, they lost from 60 to 80 pounds in a week and their tails mysteriously dropped off. Eventually, five animals died, according to Schilke.

Ambient air testing by a certified environmental consultant detected elevated levels of benzene, methane, chloroform, butane, propane, toluene and xylene -- and well testing revealed high levels of sulfates, chromium, chloride and strontium. Schilke says she moved her herd upwind and upstream from the nearest drill pad.

Although her steers currently look healthy, she said, “I won’t sell them because I don’t know if they’re OK.”

Nor does anyone else. Energy companies are exempt from key provisions of environmental laws, which makes it difficult for scientists and citizens to learn precisely what is in drilling and fracking fluids or airborne emissions. And without information on the interactions between these chemicals and pre-existing environmental chemicals, veterinarians can’t hope to pinpoint an animal’s cause of death.

The risks to food safety may be even more difficult to parse, since different plants and animals take up different chemicals through different pathways.

“There are a variety of organic compounds, metals and radioactive material (released in the fracking process) that are of human health concern when livestock meat or milk is ingested,” said Motoko Mukai, a veterinary toxicologist at Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine. These “compounds accumulate in the fat and are excreted into milk. Some compounds are persistent and do not get metabolized easily.”

Jacki Schilke
An oil-drilling rig is visible from Jacki Schilke's ranch in North Dakota.

Veterinarians don’t know how long chemicals may remain in animals, farmers aren’t required to prove their livestock are free of contamination before middlemen purchase them and the Food Safety Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture isn’t looking for these compounds in carcasses at slaughterhouses.

Documenting the scope of the problem is difficult: Scientists lack funding to study the matter, and rural vets remain silent for fear of retaliation. Farmers who receive royalty checks from energy companies are reluctant to complain, and those who have settled with gas companies following a spill or other accident are forbidden to disclose information to investigators. Some food producers would rather not know what’s going on, say ranchers and veterinarians.

Fracking proponents criticize Bamberger and Oswald’s paper as a political, not a scientific, document.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the main lobbying group for ranchers, takes no position on fracking, but some ranchers are beginning to speak out. “These are industry-supporting conservatives, not radicals,” said Amy Mall, a senior policy analyst with the environmental group, Natural Resources Defense Council. “They are the experts in their animals’ health, and they are very concerned.”

Last March, Christopher Portier, director of the National Center for Environmental Health at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, called for studies of oil and gas production’s impact on food plants and animals. None is currently planned by the federal government.

As local food booms, consumers waryBut consumers intensely interested in where and how their food is grown aren’t waiting for hard data to tell them their meat or milk is safe. For them, the perception of pollution is just as bad as the real thing.

“My beef sells itself. My farm is pristine. But a restaurant doesn’t want to visit and see a drill pad on the horizon,” said Ken Jaffe, who raises grass-fed cattle in upstate New York.

Only recently has the local foods movement, in regions across the country, reached a critical mass. But the movement’s lofty ideals could turn out to be, in shale gas areas, a double-edged sword.

Should the moratorium on hydrofracking in New York State be lifted, the 16,200-member Park Slope Food Co-op, in Brooklyn, will no longer buy food from farms anywhere near drilling operations -- a $4 million loss for upstate producers. The livelihood of organic goat farmer Steven Cleghorn, who’s surrounded by active wells in Pennsylvania, is already in jeopardy.

“People at the farmers market are starting to ask exactly where this food comes from,” he said.

This report was produced by the Food & Environment Reporting Network, an independent investigative journalism non-profit focusing on food, agriculture, and environmental health. A longer version of this story appears on

Jim Hudelson/The (Shreveport) Times

16 Cattle Drop Dead Near Mysterious Fluid at Gas Drilling Site

by Abrahm Lustgarten
ProPublica, April 30, 2009, 3 p.m.

ProPublica has been reporting for months about how natural gas drilling is affecting the environment, but of all the causes for concern we've reported, here's a doozy.
Sixteen cattle dropped dead in a northwestern Louisiana field this week after apparently drinking from a mysterious fluid adjacent to a natural gas drilling rig, according to Louisiana's Department of Environmental Quality and a report in the Shreveport Times.

At least one worker told the newspaper that the fluids, which witnesses described as green and spewing into the air near the drilling derrick, were used for a drilling process called hydraulic fracturing.

But the company, Chesapeake Energy, has not identified exactly what chemicals are in those fluids and is insisting to state regulators that no spill occurred.

The problem is that both Chesapeake and its contractor doing the work Schlumberger, say that a lot of these fluids are proprietary, said Otis Randle, regional manager for the DEQ. "It can be an obstacle, but we try to be fair to everybody," he said. "We try to remember that the products they use are theirs and they need them to make a living."

Hydraulic fracturing -- a process in which water, sand and chemicals are pumped deep underground at high pressure to break rock and release natural gas -- is controversial because of the secrecy surrounding the fluids and because the process is exempted from protections of the Safe Drinking Water Act and thus from regulation by the Environmental Protection Agency. Congress is currently considering legislation to address these issues out of concern that fracturing, and the fluids and waste that are part of the process, may be contaminating drinking water in several states.

Hydraulic fracturing has made drilling more efficient and economical and has helped make vast new reserves of natural gas available across the country, including in New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Wyoming, Colorado and Louisiana.

Scientists at the EPA and the U.S. Geological Survey have told ProPublica that it's difficult for them to assess the environmental risks posed by hydraulic fracturing chemicals because the companies that use them won't release the exact names and amounts of the chemicals. The energy service companies, including Halliburton and Schlumberger, say that disclosing that information would put them at a competitive disadvantage, and they insist the fluids are safe. Some information about the materials is made available through Material Safety Data Sheets, which can provide cursory medical advice for workers exposed to the chemicals.