Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”—the process of pumping water and chemicals into the ground at a pressurized rate exceeding what bedrock can withstand to harvest sweet, sweet natural gas—was an inevitability in Pennsylvania. There’s big money in this new kind of drilling; both candidates for governor in 2010 were eager to welcome the gas companies with open arms. Environmentalists, of course, have a pesky tendency to ask how such things might be impacting the whole ecosystem in the long term, not just the economy in the short term—and, indeed, they’ve suggested that fracking may contaminate our water supply. After the controversial documentary Gasland brought information about fracking to the mass consciousness, the process has subsequently found itself at the heart of several scientific mysteries and conspiracy theories you may not have heard of. And, damn, if any of these are true, we’re all in grave danger. Grave!
1. Maybe Fracking Caused Mass Bird Deaths…
In 2011, birds across the country randomly began falling out of the sky. Most of those incidents occurred in Arkansas and Louisiana, near fracking sites in the Bible Belt. People inevitably blamed God’s wrath (and President Obama) for the oddity. Local authorities, meanwhile, claimed the deaths were totally normal, despite the fact that scientists couldn’t explain why.
But what science often lacks, the Internet provides. Message boards at AboveTopSecret.com claim there’s a direct link between the birds and fracking: Drilling could’ve caused a methane leak. And that gas could’ve drifted up into the atmosphere. Then, lightning hits the toxic gas cloud at the exact time a flock of birds is going by and BOOM!—a mess of dead birds fall to the earth.
2. …and Fish Deaths...
In 2009, as many as 65,000 dead fish washed up along Dunkard Creek, which runs through both West
Virginia and Southwestern Pennsylvania, near a hydraulic fracturing site. According to a report in the Earth Island Journal, “Many of the fish were bleeding from the gills.” It was one of the worst disasters in the region’s history.
But like the bird deaths, there was no smoking gun. Nothing could explain the deaths, which included other water creatures like salamanders and insects. Recent fracking in the area was called the likely culprit—along with coal-mine acid drainage in the region, and other earth-harvesting activities.
3. …and Human Illness...
Late anti-fracking activist Carl Stiles of Bradford County, Pa., died earlier this year after living with illnesses he believed were brought on by shale gas drilling near his home. Stiles, who had intestinal cancer, abandoned his property last year after a toxicologist found barium, arsenic and other volatile organic chemicals in his blood. The radioactivity in his home was nearly seven times the EPA standard limit. And still, no one can say for sure if hydraulic fracturing chemicals were the cause of Stiles’ death.
Additionally, Stacey Haney, of Washington County, Pa., watched her dog, her neighbor’s dog and their family’s pet goat die after leasing out some of their land to drillers, according to news reports. Her son was hospitalized twice with mouth ulcers and other complications. All tested positive for arsenic.
4. …and Earthquakes...
Fracking is in itself sort of like a small earthquake done at an incredibly controlled pace. It’d make sense, then, that messing with underground bedrock might lead the earth to do a little jiggling. Researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey noted for the last three decades, until 2000, “seismic events” averaged 21 a year in the United States. That number jumped to 50 in 2009, 87 in 2010 and 134 in 2011. And what could be to blame for this? Fracking! The Ohio Department of Natural Resources recently said fracking was likely to blame for 12 earthquakes that hit the region and placed a moratorium on six Youngstown, Ohio, wells. But hey, no worries—Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior David Hayes said most earthquakes in the U.S. have been “fairly small” as of late—like the one that shook your office last summer.
5. ...and STDs...
Last summer, Rep. Mike Sturla (D-Lancaster) took the whole “drilling” thing way too euphemistically when he claimed out-of-state natural-gas workers were coming into Pennsylvania and “spreading sexually transmitted disease amongst the womenfolk.” Specifically, Sturla pointed to a Troy Community Hospital study that noted “an increase in sexually transmitted diseases” and “drug use and specifically ‘bath salts’” near fracking sites. When Sturla’s comments were called “hate speech” by Republicans, he hastened to make clear that he doesn’t think of our fine Pennsylvania women as “womenfolk”—he just figured those carpetbagging drillers do.
6. …and, of Course, Satanism
If even one of the above conspiracies is true, it’d seem weird that Harrisburg is ignoring them. Could something more sinister be at play? According to user Frack You! on another fracking forum, the answer is a resounding yes.
“I started thinking,” the user writes, “who really knows what the real purpose of these ‘deep well injection programs’ really is? They are boring down into the Earth and making earthquakes and flammable water—how do we know that this isn’t some sort of deep-Earth Satanic ritual?”
Frack You! has got one thing right: We just don’t know.