Hydraulic Fracturing in Louisiana Sparks Pollution Fears

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has been implicated in several instances of water contamination in Louisiana. In some case, water tainted with fracking fluids has killed livestock, and in other instances, homes have been evacuated because natural gas escaping from wellheads posed an explosion risk.

Most of Louisiana’s fracking activity is taking place in the Haynesville Shale, which extends from northwest Louisiana into East Texas. The Haynesville Shale, which contains an estimated 250 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas, has been at the center of a fracking boom since 2008. Many Louisiana residents have reaped huge financial rewards – some even becoming millionaires – after agreeing to lease their property to natural gas drillers. But according to a report in USA Today, some are beginning to question whether the economic benefits that accompanied the drilling boom are worth its costs.

“There are a lot of concerns,” Kassi Ebarb, a resident of a Shreveport suburb who has led a fight to demand more environmental safeguards from gas companies, told USA Today. “We would walk away (from the money) rather than take anything that was insufficient to protect our neighborhood and our kids.”

Fracking is a drilling technique that involves injecting water, sand, and a cocktail of chemicals at high pressure into rock formations thousands of feet below the surface. Thanks to a move by Congress in 2005, fracking is exempt from federal regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act. As a result, the industry is not required to disclose the chemicals – some of which are known to be hazardous – that make up their fracking fluids. Since there is little federal regulation of fracking, states are the industry’s chief overseers.

According to USA Today, Louisiana’s fracking boom is putting a strain on state regulators. In Louisiana, 38 oil and gas inspectors are responsible for monitoring the state’s 19,000 producing natural gas wells, including 781 in the Haynesville Shale area, according to the state Department of Natural Resources. A local lawyer told USA Today that Louisiana regulators “don’t have the political will nor the budget or the staff to adequately address the level of drilling that’s going on in this area.”

That lack of adequate regulation may have played a role in some fracking accidents that have occurred in Louisiana in the past couple of years. For instance, fracking has been blamed for the deaths of 17 cows in a pasture near a drilling rig in Caddo Parish last spring. According to USA Today, people living near the pasture had reported that the animals were bleeding foaming at the mouth before they died. Necropsies later determined they had died from drinking fracking fluids that had leaked into the pasture. A natural gas driller, Chesapeake Energy Corp., and one of its subcontractors were later fined $22,000 each for the incident.

Just this past April, 200 homes in rural Caddo Parish were evacuated for days when a gas well blew out, sending gas into the air and local water supply. According to USA Today, regulators detected high levels of methane in water from residents’ toilets and sinks.

One of those evacuated, 50-year-old Frances Contario, 50, told USA Today that she has drinking only bottled water since returning to her home because of fears that her water supply is tainted.

“We didn’t ask for this,” Contario told USA Today. “Our biggest concern is that one day this will all be contaminated.”

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