Fracking in Farm Fields: Soil Quality, Health Concerns Abound

by Maria Dimengo
copyright 2018, Acres Magazine

The images of water-logged grasslands and decimated fields paint a bleak portrait of rural farm life in the aftermath of hurricane disasters. For ecosystems, it is the water and soil that binds. Flatlands and coastal prairies can only absorb so much water, and farmers need to figure out a way to restore a soil medium that keeps dairy cows healthy and row crops productive.

Beyond this weather-beaten landscape are the man-made threats to clean water and soil. Never mind the damage caused by fires, hurricanes and tropical storms. Growers are being impacted by unconventional oil and natural gas exploration beneath their fertile farms and fields.

For years, growers in Texas, Ohio, California, Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania have been impacted by the increase in hydraulic fracturing being championed by corporations and industry associations that are profiting from the expansion of shale gas energy production. An entire industrial complex is needed to support the industry, including equipment manufacturers, refineries, fracking sand mines, proppant providers, LNG terminals etc. — all of which include MI, MN, IL, and WI although these states do not have a significant fracking footprint.

Farmers want to know whether this boom is releasing toxic heavy metals into soil or compromising their air, water, crop and livestock health. Researchers have been analyzing water and soil impacts for years, and looking at livestock populations that have been exposed to fluids that are injected underground for miles.

More than 74 percent of U.S. farms operate within shale basins, active shale plays, and fracturing sand geologies, according to The FracTracker Alliance, a group that studies the impacts of hydrofracking on three agrarian Ohio counties. “The farmers I’m seeing don’t seem to realize the magnitude of this,” said Ted Auch, the organization’s Great Lakes Program Coordinator. “There’s just a huge amount of land being taken out of production.”

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