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Is Fracking to Blame for Contamination of Oklahoma’s Water?

Despite repeated denials from the natural gas industry and government officials, all studies and evidence to date points to fracking as the cause of our earthquake boom.

For the general public in Oklahoma, daily earthquakes are beginning to be old news. Another earthquake? So what, we have a thousand a year now. The only people who refuse to acknowledge even the existence of earthquakes are those in our state government who should be researching it.

Despite repeated denials from the natural gas industry and government officials, all studies and evidence to date points to fracking as the cause of our earthquake boom.

But now, there’s another mysterious occurrence spreading across Oklahoma, one that could turn out to be another dangerous byproduct of fracking. Oklahoma City’s News9 first reported on the phenomenon just yesterday:

Mysterious Substance Found In Water In NW OKC Neighborhood

What if all of a sudden you start finding a mysterious substance in your water and no one can tell you what it is?

That’s exactly what’s happening in the Auburn Meadows neighborhood near 178th and Penn.

“This is ridiculous,” said Amy King who moved into their brand new house three and a half years ago. She and her husband have never had any problems with their water before, but now what they find coming out of their water gives a whole new definition to hard water.

The video shows Amy King running water through her faucet and coming up with significant amounts of the mysterious substance, enough to clog their faucet aerators every single day.

Almost immediately, comments on News9’s page confirms that the Kings’ problem was not an isolated incident:

“I live in Newkirk, Ok. and I have the same thing going on here, and it not hard water. We don’t drink the water from our faucet or cook with it, we have to clean our shower head out every week to get the water to run free it’s awful. Same way with our washer hoses and water heater. We have to bring in our water that we drink and cook with.”

“We have it too at 178th and May, just not as bad yet.”

“We have been having this problem in the Grove too on 178th and Portland. It’s disgusting.”

“So that’s what’s on our dishes after we run them through. I thought our dishwasher just sucked.”

“This is the exact thing happening in Claremore! I just noticed it last night and I was definitely freaked out by it!”

“It’s the same in Jones it also tears up ya water heaters…”

“Thanks for this story. I also reside fairly near the people in this news story (Wynchase housing addition, NW 164th and Macarthur), in a house that is approximately 3.5 years old. We moved into our home new just like the people in the news story. Our water seemed fine for about the first 2.5 years or so, then this mysterious substance arrived ruining our plumbing and plumbing fixtures.”

“Our plumbing is getting absolutely wrecked by the mysterious substance found in the water. It has completely made our dishwasher and washing machine unusable (as the lines are clogged). I’m not sure how dangerous the substance in general is?”

It wasn’t long before the word “fracking” entered the conversation:

“As an English professor, I can only say “Well, Duh!”. Fracking – why is our culture so obstinately blind to this very glaring reality?”

“I suppose the tree hugging, progressive Liberal Environmentalists will blame fracking.”

As for me, I recognized the white, crystalline, granular substance immediately. It looked exactly like silica sand, commonly used for sandblasting. In a former life, when I owned a handmade tile and ceramics company, we used it on our kiln shelves to act as a barrier between tile and the shelves so that they would slide easier as the clay shrunk from the firing process.

My next instinct was to research silica sand, which in this case took all of 30 seconds. A google search of “silica sand and fracking” immediately turned up an article about the huge boom in the silica sand industry, triggered by an increased demand for silica sand used in, you guessed it, fracking:

Sand Rush: Fracking Boom Spurs Rush on Wisconsin Silica

In the fracking process, sand is suspended in a chemical slurry and pumped thousands of feet underground. The high-pressure fluid cracks open the shale rock. Sand flows into these fractures and “props” them open like trillions of tiny marbles, allowing dislodged crude oil or natural gas to seep out.

Consumed by the bargeful, “proppant” sand is cheap, heavy, and essential. One fracked well in the Marcellus shale region, for example, can slurp several million pounds of it. A single fracked well can require 10,000 tons of industrial silica sand, according to Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources.

So an estimated 30-40 million metric tons of frack sand will be mined this year. That’s a double-digit increase from last year and the year before that.

10,000 tons of silica sand per well. 30-40 million metric tons of silica sand mined in 2013 alone, most of it pumped into the ground during the fracking process. Chemical laden fracking slurry causes the ground to shift and split open, and the silica sand fills the void and allows the natural gas to escape.

Other posters suggested that the substance was simply calcium carbonate build-up caused by old pipes or a reaction called electrolysis. Based on the video footage I’ve seen and the comments posted, I would disagree. Calcium carbonate doesn’t come out of faucets in such granular form, and it wouldn’t be filling up filters every single day. It also doesn’t have the same reflective crystalline quality. And one poster commented:

“I called the city and they said it was my pipes til I told them I have pex water lines.”

Pex is a polyethylene based plumbing pipe, with no metal that could become corroded or trigger the electrolysis process. The same poster issued an ominous health warning:

“I don’t let my husband drink the water because he has chronic kidney stone and what ever is in the water may make it worse or may even have caused the problem to begin with.”

I’m not sure about the effects of drinking silica, but breathing it can have serious health consequences, and is known to cause silicosis The Center for Disease Control first issued an alert in 1992, describing:

“99 cases of silicosis from exposure to crystalline silica during sandblasting. Of the 99 workers reported, 14 have already died from the disease, and the remaining 85 may die eventually from silicosis or its complications.”

The CDC goes on to describe symptoms of silicosis:

“Silicosis (especially the acute form) is characterized by shortness of breath, fever, and cyanosis (bluish skin); it may often be misdiagnosed as pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs), pneumonia, or tuberculosis. Severe mycobacterial or fungal infections often complicate silicosis and may be fatal in many cases.”

There is a boom in silica sand mining for use in fracking along the Oklahoma/Texas border as well, causing controversy over both water quality issues and the massive amount of water used in the mining process. One company, EOG Resources, bought more than a thousand acres in Texas, right across from the Oklahoma border, to begin mining silica sand.

Once again, Oklahoma is faced with another issue that appears to have grown exponentially in the past few years, one that, like earthquakes, points to the fracking process. Will tests confirm that the substance suddenly contaminating our precious water supplies is indeed silica sand, or is it really as simple as calcium carbonate buildup in our water pipes? If it is silica sand, will our state (and federal) regulators move swiftly to protect its citizens by calling for a moratorium on fracking until we can verify the safety of the process?

Or will we instead cave in once again to the influence of Oklahoma’s powerful natural gas production industry? Will we stick our heads in the silica sand and ignore the warnings until it’s too late? Worse yet, is our most valuable natural resource, our drinking water, already irreversibly contaminated by the millions of tons of silica sand that have been injected into the Earth’s outer core?

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