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Hydraulic Fracking Case Verdict

International Rights of Nature Tribunal
Lima, Peru – December 2014

by Tom BK Goldtooth, December 6, 2014

Subsoil, ecosystems and communities versus hydraulic fracking

Click For Hydraulic Fracking case presentation

Hydraulic fracturing, to be called “fracking” in this verdict, is a destructive process used by corporations to extract natural gas and oil from rock that lies deep underground. The process involves the drilling of a deep well and injecting millions of gallons of toxic fracking fluid. This fluid is a mixture of water, sand and chemicals injected at high pressure that fractures the rock and releases the oil or gas. Presentation was made citing more than 600 toxic chemicals are used in the fracking process.

Presentation was provided by Ms. Shannon Biggs, of the fracking development of North Dakota. This data was prepared by Ms. Kandi Mossett (not present), an indigenous environmental activist and member of the tribal-nation community of Fort Berthold Three Affiliated Tribes of Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara in the State of North Dakota in the United States. Data provided evidence of approximately 300,000 barrels of natural gas a day and over 800,000 barrels of crude oil a day is extracted within the territories of her indigenous community and within the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota. Many fractures occur within 200 feet deep under houses, schools, federal lands and in populated areas.

Fracking requires large amounts of fresh water in order to extract natural gas from the ground. Each fracking well requires between 2 and 8 million gallons of water. Access to clean water often becomes a public health issue and a human right to clean fresh drinkable water. Again, that water is mixed with sand and toxic chemicals, but also includes hydrocarbons, radioactive radon, biocides and includes over 100 suspected endocrine disruptors and carcinogens. Testimony was provided that large quantities of wastewater from fracking and water that escapes from fracking wells are polluting underground water sources and surface streams, lakes and rivers. In the United States alone, about 100 trillion gallons of water and 400 billion gallons of “fracturing fluids”, as mentioned above is polluted with no stable process or technique for treating this water. In the U.S. Bakken oil field, water treatment facilities aren’t equipped with specialized equipment, which is very costly, even if there was a certified process for “cleaning this wastewater.” As the world faces a global water crisis with aquifers running dry and glaciers melting, fracking presents a further threat to global fresh water supplies. In the US, hydraulic fracking has been exempted from major federal and state Environmental Protection Act (EPA) laws, including the U.S. Safe Water Drinking Act . This is alarming for there are many spills and leaks.

The sand used in the fracking process includes silica dust, which pours out of fracking sites and into the atmosphere in large clouds. A recent review of the public health impacts of drilling and fracking noted that these silica dust clouds have been associated with tuberculosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, kidney disease and autoimmune disease.

Fracking also is linked to air pollution and contamination to the atmosphere. Fracking releases carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, methane, benzene, carbon monoxide, and other dangerous pollutants into the air where human, animals, birds, fish and nature communities live. In my verdict, I take note for the Tribunal to recognize that natural gas contains methane, a very potent greenhouse gas (GHG). When a well is fracked, methane leaks from the well site, from the compressor stations, and even from cracks and fissures in the earth that goes into the atmosphere, thus exacerbating climate change. I cite a 2014 assessment from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that reported that methane from drilling and fracking traps 87 times more heat than carbon dioxide, pound for pound, over a 20 year period. In the U.S., fracking is promoted as a less dirty source of fossil fuel and as a solution to climate change. But evidence shows it can make climate change worse.

Presentations cited that in fracking, 2/3 of toxic chemicals remain in the soil; millions of gallons of toxic waste cannot be processed and are released into the environment. In the U.S. State of Colorado alone, 51,000 fracture operations in four years have been drilled for gas and oil. The wells produce methane, which is a greenhouse substance that is 105 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. Substances that produce cause asthma, cancer and serious illnesses. It is estimated that 60 tons of methane gas are emitted.

Furthermore, the technique of fracturing is shown to cause earthquakes. Ms. Casey Camp, U.S. based indigenous grandmother, actor, and environmental justice and indigenous rights activist presented a very touching testimony about the pain that “fracturing the skeleton of Mother Earth” is causing within her homeland and indigenous communities across the U.S. Her own 600-member Ponca tribal community in the U.S. State of Oklahoma is burying one relative a week due death from cancer and other diseases. She spoke movingly about feeling frequent earthquakes in recent years in an area that had not been prone to earthquakes before fracking development. The shaking is all the more riveting to the raw emotions dealing with the deep personal loss and destructive impact of extractive industries on all relations.

On a video presentation, Ms. Kandi Mossett spoke emotively of toxicity to air, ground and water introduced by fracking within the Bakken oil field, within her homeland. The perpetual flares of methane burn off are so numerous that they can be seen from space. Ms. Mossett also told of the devastating social impact of large man camps and heavy equipment traffic. The man camps that come with the oil and gas fracking development, in these remote rural areas has led to trafficking of women and girls, and crime. Drug crimes in neighboring eastern Montana have increased 172 percent. Assaults in the town of Dickinson, North Dakota, are up 300 percent. There was a link to how fracking development is a form of violence against women, and how fracking is viewed by many Indigenous peoples as a form of violence against Mother Earth.

Hydraulic fracturing development is escalating throughout the world. Presentations were provided that demonstrated the expansion of hydraulic fracturing throughout many regions of the world. It was cited that in the U.S. a country that prides itself on environmental protection laws and human rights, that even the U.S. has a poor record regulating the fracking industry with signs of human rights and environmental justice violations mounting. The question is how can other developing countries that lack environmental protection laws, regulatory and enforcement infrastructure be expected to manage and prevent human harm and prevent environmental and ecosystem damages to Nature?

Regionally in Latin America, Martin Vilela and Fabrizio Oscahayta of Bolivia spoke of the threats of aggressive fracking plans proposed in their country. Plaintiffs requested the Tribunal keep the case open to more evidence about the use of this technique in countries like Argentina, in order to assess the overall impact of this technique that fractures the skeleton of Mother Earth and is demonstration of other abuses against Nature.

As the Judge of Court of this topic, there is evidence that the fracking industry, globally has caused multiple injuries to Mother Earth, the subsoil, water, ecosystems and Nature. I request the Tribunal suspend a decision in order to receive more information on hydraulic fracturing and identifying global violations of its industrial practices and processes on the rights of Nature at an upcoming hearing. The Tribunal further requested consultations with scientists and place-based testimonies of communities directly affected by this development to gather more information on the extent and magnitude of hydraulic fractures damage. These documents shall further be transmitted to the UN secretary General for knowledge under the program Harmony with Nature.