On June 28, 2014 a fire at a Halliburton-operated oil well in Monroe County Ohio caused a small-scale environmental disaster.
A leak of the fracking fluid sprayed onto hot metal, igniting it and then spreading fire to the tankers that were used to store the fluid. The tankers spilled, releasing dangerously toxic fracking chemicals into a tributary of the Ohio River. It took nearly a week to extinguish the flames and in that time fracking fluid was being washed into the creek along with the water and foam used to fight the fire. The spill killed 70,000 fish and also put firefighters and the down-river residents of Martinsville West Virginia at risk of poisoning and cancer.
A Disaster Made Worse
Because of a loophole in Federal laws, environmental protection agents were unable to act quickly in testing the water. Halliburton was not required to divulge to the agencies exactly what chemicals spilled out. That action showed Halliburton was more interested in protecting the recipe of their fracking fluid than in protecting the local community and wildlife.
Compounding the issue, the government departments involved in oversight also had a problem with inter-departmental communications. While the Department of Natural Resources was the first government agency to know what chemicals contaminated the water system, they did not share the information with the national and state Environmental Protection Agencies. Due to the delay in information, the environmental protection agents were not able to test the water before the chemicals were swept downstream.
The Fluid State Of Fracking
Fracking has done much to enhance the bottom line of oil companies and create more domestic energy resources, but at what cost? Fracking relies on a mixture of chemicals such as ethylene glycol, formaldehyde and naphthalene, chemicals known to be very hazardous if they are ingested. The term fracking comes from the high-pressure process of forcing the chemicals, salt-water brine and sand down into the well to cause the surrounding bedrock to fracture and crack. This facilitates the collection of liquid crude oil and natural gas. One of the primary dangers is the risk the fracking fluid poses to the local water supplies.
The Political Influence Of Corporate Power
In spite of the hazard to ground water, the Environmental Protection Agency does not have authority over fracking, as a result of the amendment to the 2005 Energy Policy Act known as the Halliburton Loophole. The company was instrumental in lobbying to get the exception included in the bill and Vice President Dick Chaney had been CEO and chairman prior to taking political office. Political influence, bureaucratic intransigence and the push for greater profits are a dangerous mix. The use of toxic chemicals in fracking fluid and the lack of disclosure only add to an already dangerous situation.