Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a process by which companies forcibly extract fossil fuels from underground deposits. Experts say the process pumps several million gallons of water and metric tons of chemicals and sand into a well to shatter rock formations and force fossil fuels to the surface.
The Energy Policy Act of 2005 specifically exempts companies from reporting what chemicals they use to mine these wells.
Filmmaker Josh Fox said these businesses are not subject to the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act or the Safe Drinking Water Act.
Wisconsin does not have the shale formations that contain trapped fossil fuels, but it is one of the largest suppliers for the silica sand used in the process.
In January, the DNR released a report that estimates there to be approximately 60 mining operations in Wisconsin, with another 20 proposed. The sand is most common in western Wisconsin, centered near Chippewa, Monroe and Trempealeau.
While the sand can be mined, blasting is a common extraction method. Once a site is blown up, the fine sand is recovered and distributed around the U.S.
Fracking was also recently approved for college campuses in Pennsylvania. Universities will be paid to allow the drilling to take place.
New research shows that this drilling is affecting aquifers across the U.S. and that contaminants are finding their way into ground water
sources used by the public.
Fox’s documentary, “Gasland,” is helping to lead the charge against fracking. It shows the struggles Americans who have sold their land to energy companies have faced.
“If you’re economic model is utter destruction and sustainability isn’t a concern, you can always make a ton of money,” Fox said. “We don’t want resources gathered at the expense of our fellow man.”
People who have sold their land must sign non-disclosure agreements forbidding them from talking about problems they face. The 2005 exemptions also prohibit doctors from telling their patients what chemicals they are being exposed to when approached with health concerns.
“When you’ve taken away someone’s home and their ability to tell their story, that is fundamental stripping of someone’s human rights,” Fox said.
A typical well can be as deep as 8,000 feet, while water sources are about 1,000 feet deep. During fracking, oils and chemicals can interact with those aquifers.
Eric Compas, professor and faculty adviser for Students Allied for a Green Earth, said there is no second chance when it comes to ground water sources.
“Once contaminated, those compounds can’t be filtered out,” Compas said. “With the current exemptions, companies can walk away without any legal liability.”
Compas said the environmental policies in place can give a false sense of security.
“We have this legislation we think is protecting us, but in this case it doesn’t,” Compas said. “We have made natural gas artificially cheap by compromising our environment.”
Europeans pay roughly $10 to $12 for a gallon of gas, while Americans pay $3 to $4,
even though as of Oct. 2, oil is trading for more than $92 a barrel on the global market for everyone.
Biology Professor George Clokey said the difference in price comes in the form of tax write-offs for U.S. companies, which then distribute the cost among taxpayers.
He compared fracking a well to unclogging a sink, but said it’s not as safe.
“Gas companies claim there is no significant environmental impact from fracking, but they have a vested interest,” Clokey said. “If there’s no problems then let’s just do the research to prove that.”
Clokey said one method of tracking harmful compounds is to attach specific radioactive markers to fracking fluids for each company.
A bill in Congress, the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness to Chemicals Act, is intended to repeal the loophole established by the 2005 energy act and require disclosure of the chemicals companies use to frack wells.
Fox said he is uncertain of the FRAC Act’s future after losing several key Congressional allies and trying to pass it with a Republican majority.
He said the only thing that is more powerful than the influence of the gas companies in Washington D.C., is the people.
“The people can overcome this influence, but they have to get involved,” Fox said. “You don’t know how powerful it is to talk to a legislator because it happens so rarely; you have to organize.”
The film’s website, gaslandthemovie.com, has more information on fracking and ways people can get involved in protesting.