What the Frack Is in Pennsylvania’s Water? Uh, Radioactive Gas

In hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” drillers pump pressurized liquid composed of sand and chemicals into the earth to free up gas and oil. It’s apparently a real moneymaker with industry projections estimated to be around $60 billion by 2017 in the U.S. alone. Environmentalists warn that such practices contaminate groundwater with salts and radioactive chemicals, turning what comes out of faucets into toxic waste. In some places in the U.S., you can even light tap water on fire.

Pennsylvania is adding fracking wells to its landscape at a rate three times faster than the national average. There, executives and politicians campaigning on behalf of the hydraulic fracturing industry drink fracking fluid—the liquid that miners pump into the ground—in front of large crowds to prove its safety.

This is an attempt to convince the public that there is no harm from fracturing a shale oil well. It is deceptive in the sense that it’s the least of the problems. What goes down the well is not nearly as important as what comes up in their view.

Most relevant to the public safety issues are the ingredients of the fracking fluid that returns to the surface—referred to as “flowback water”—as radon-laced toxic waste. Radon gas is the second leading cause of lung cancer in America. Yet there are no federal regulations limiting radon in flowback water.

Still, locals in the nation’s fracking capital are enjoying the economic spoils. Hydraulic fracturing is expected to add $30 billion to Pennsylvania’s economy over the next two decades.

Here is a video documenting Pennsylvania’s politicians and lobbyists attempt to sway the public view on fracking, at the expense of their own health.

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