A man known as the ‘frack master’ went on television Thursday to tell people “absolutely, fracking isn’t contaminating anything.” Unfortunately, he’s wrong.
The trouble started when WWL-TV, a Louisiana CBS affiliate, introduced the CEO of an oil and gas company as an “oil industry expert,” and it didn’t get better. Not once in the five-minute segment did anchor Eric Paulsen mention Chris Faulkner’s role as CEO of Breitling Energy, an oil and gas company that operates in several states. Faulkner is known as the “frack master,” the company’s site reads, “for his unapologetic and outspoken industry advocacy.”
Faulkner frequently makes media appearances to promote fracking and, lately, to disparage the EPA’s carbon regulations. He believes that climate change is caused by nature, “and that man contributes very little,” he said in with SHALE magazine.
Faulkner spent almost his entire interview talking about the possibility of fluid escaping underground fractures and getting into water supplies, which he says is impossible because fracturing takes place so much deeper than water wells. However, he did admit that “if you’ve got some sort of surface spill of chemical, and it comes from the surface and migrates down, I can see that,” contaminating drinking water. Faulkner is saying that one very particular kind of spill is technically unlikely, while overlooking the many actual cases of groundwater contamination.
There are a variety of ways that fracking can contaminate both the air and water of people nearby. A Texas family was awarded $3 million when gases, chemicals, and industrial waste seeped into the air from fracking operations, causing symptoms like chronic breathing problems, irregular heartbeat, muscle spasms, and open sores. And there are an increasing number of cases where families poisoned by fracking were required to sign gag orders to receive settlements, preventing them from publicizing their stories.
As long as they focus on certain aspects of fracking, drillers can make it seem like negative health effects are actually impossible. When talking about contamination, for instance, Faulkner focused on the possibility of injected fluid leaking into groundwater, the one type that hasn’t been proven.
For health impacts, studies that measure look at ideal conditions without spills or leaks can obscure the fact that those are a regular occurrence. And studies that look for certain chemicals can miss the presence of chemicals that are ‘trade secrets’, and not known to the public. Meanwhile, studies that examine health outcomes near fracking operations have found that living near a fracking site can increase the risk of birth defects by as much as 30 percent. We need more studies on the health impacts of fracking, but allies of the energy industry aren’t having it.
Even if the actual injection of fracking fluid into the ground hasn’t been linked to water contamination, it has been linked to earthquakes, like the 50 that occurred in an area of Texas that had never experienced any before.