How Fracking Affects You

Can fracking make you rich? Can it make you sick? Does it cause earthquakes? Read on. And don’t miss Suzanna Andrews’s profile of environmental activist Sharon Wilson--read it here

by Nanette Varian • executive features editor { View Profile }
gas rig image
Photograph: Courtesy of Calin Tatu/shutterstock.com

Antifracking activist Sharon Wilson, who is profiled in More's September issue, at first welcomed fracking as an opportunity to strike it rich. She owned 50 percent of the mineral rights to her Texas property—all that was available at the time she bought her land. In 2008 an energy company offered her a $20,000 signing bonus plus a 20 percent royalty (about $1,200 a month) to extract gas from her land. But royalities can fluctuate over time—Wilson now receives $800 a month—and recent lawsuits have accused energy firms of shortchanging landowners. In some instances, fracking on your land (or on your neighbors’) can negatively affect property value, says New York real estate and environmental lawyer Elisabeth Radow. For more on mineral rights and property value, see "Do You Own What’s Under Your Home?"

Will fracking make me sick? “Too often citizen testimonies of health effects . . . are dismissed as anecdotal,” writes Wilson and her coauthors in Flowback: How the Texas Natural Gas Boom Affects Health and Safety, a report they produced for the Washington, D.C.-based environmental group Earthworks. “But when so many citizens across almost two dozen [Texas] counties report similar complaints and symptoms associated with gas drilling, something is wrong.” Illnesses reported in Flowback (and from fracking sites around the country) include asthma, nausea, nosebleeds, headaches, dizziness, fatigue and rashes, along with the death of pets and farm animals. Activists and some legislators have been calling for more thorough testing of fracking’s potential effects and fuller disclosure about the composition of fracking fluids. Why is so little currently known? Since 2005, the industry has been exempt from the federal Safe Drinking Water Act and similar legislation, meaning companies can avoid disclosing the exact chemical mix by saying that it is a trade secret.

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