NBC: Animals quietly falling sick and dying near oil & gas drilling — Cows tails dropping off (PHOTO)

Published: December 1st, 2012 at 8:57 pm ET


Title: Livestock falling ill in fracking regions
Source: NBC News (Full report here)
Author: Elizabeth Royte, Food & Environment Reporting Network
Date: Nov. 30, 2012
h/t Anonymous tip

In the midst of the domestic energy boom, livestock on farms near oil- and gas-drilling operations nationwide have been quietly falling sick and dying

[…] Earlier this year, Michelle Bamberger, an Ithaca veterinarian, and Robert Oswald, a professor of molecular medicine at Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine, published the first (and, so far, only) peer-reviewed report to suggest a link between fracking and illness in food animals. The authors compiled case studies of twenty-four farmers in six shale-gas states whose livestock experienced neurological, reproductive and acute gastrointestinal problems. Exposed either accidentally or incidentally to fracking chemicals in the water or air, scores of animals have died. The death toll is insignificant when measured against the nation’s livestock population (some 97 million beef cattle go to market each year), but environmental advocates believe these animals constitute an early warning. […]

In Louisiana, seventeen cows died after an hour’s exposure to spilled fracking fluid. (Most likely cause of death: respiratory failure.) In north central Pennsylvania, 140 cattle were exposed to fracking wastewater when an impoundment was breached. Approximately seventy cows died; the remainder produced eleven calves, of which only three survived. In western Pennsylvania, an overflowing waste pit sent fracking chemicals into a pond and a pasture where pregnant cows grazed: half their calves were born dead. […]

Photo: Jacki Schilke

[…] Ever since a heater-treater unit, which separates oil, gas and brine, blew out on a drill pad a half-mile upwind of [Jacki Schilke’s North Dakota ranch], her own creek has been clogged with scummy growth, and it regularly burps up methane. “No one can tell me what’s going on,” she says. But since the blowout, her creek has failed to freeze, despite temperatures of forty below. (Testing found sulfate levels of 4,000 parts per million: the EPA’s health goal for sulfate is 250 parts per million.)

Schilke’s troubles began in the summer of 2010, when a crew working at this site continued to force drilling fluid down a well that had sprung a leak. Soon, Schilke’s cattle were limping, with swollen legs and infections. Cows quit producing milk for their calves; they lost from sixty to eighty pounds in a week; and their tails mysteriously dropped off. […]

Published: December 1st, 2012 at 8:57 pm ET


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24 comments to NBC: Animals quietly falling sick and dying near oil & gas drilling — Cows tails dropping off (PHOTO)

  • dodge

    It appears that the tails are in place, but they have lost the hair on their tails. There is always a lot of hair, the tails are used to keep insects off, and a "rat tail" like shown in the picture is very unusual.

  • Dr. Anne Lee Tomlinson Maziar anne

    “In Pennsylvania, the oil and gas industry is already on a tear—drilling thousands of feet into ancient seabeds, then repeatedly fracturing (or “fracking”) these wells with millions of gallons of highly pressurized, chemically laced water, which shatters the surrounding shale and releases fossil fuels. New York, meanwhile, is on its own natural-resource tear, with hundreds of newly opened breweries, wineries, organic dairies and pastured livestock operations—all of them capitalizing on the metropolitan area’s hunger to localize its diet.
    “But there’s growing evidence that these two impulses, toward energy and food independence, may be at odds with each other.
    “Tonight’s guests have heard about residential drinking wells tainted by fracking fluids in Pennsylvania, Wyoming and Colorado. They’ve read about lingering rashes, nosebleeds and respiratory trauma in oil-patch communities, which are mostly rural, undeveloped, and lacking in political influence and economic prospects. The trout nibblers in the winery sympathize with the suffering of those communities. But their main concern tonight is a more insidious matter: the potential for drilling and fracking operations to contaminate our food. The early evidence from heavily fracked regions, especially from ranchers, is not reassuring.

    • Dr. Anne Lee Tomlinson Maziar anne

      “Jacki Schilke and her sixty cattle live in the top left corner of North Dakota, a windswept, golden-hued landscape in the heart of the Bakken Shale. Schilke’s neighbors love her black Angus beef, but she’s no longer sharing or eating it—not since fracking began on thirty-two oil and gas wells within three miles of her 160-acre ranch and five of her cows dropped dead. Schilke herself is in poor health. A handsome 53-year-old with a faded blond ponytail and direct blue eyes, she often feels lightheaded when she ventures outside. She limps and has chronic pain in her lungs, as well as rashes that have lingered for a year. Once, a visit to the barn ended with respiratory distress and a trip to the emergency room. Schilke also has back pain linked with overworked kidneys, and on some mornings she urinates a stream of blood.
      “Ambient air testing by a certified environmental consultant detected elevated levels of benzene, methane, chloroform, butane, propane, toluene and xylene—compounds associated with drilling and fracking, and also with cancers, birth defects and organ damage. Her well tested high for sulfates, chromium, chloride and strontium; her blood tested positive for acetone, plus the heavy metals arsenic (linked with skin lesions, cancers and cardiovascular disease) and germanium (linked with muscle weakness and skin rashes).

    • Dr. Anne Lee Tomlinson Maziar anne

      Both she and her husband, who works in oilfield services, have recently lost crowns and fillings from their teeth; tooth loss is associated with radiation poisoning and high selenium levels, also found in the Schilkes’ water.
      “State health and agriculture officials acknowledged Schilke’s air and water tests but told her she had nothing to worry about. Her doctors, however, diagnosed her with neurotoxic damage and constricted airways. “I realized that this place is killing me and my cattle,” Schilke says. She began using inhalers and a nebulizer, switched to bottled water, and quit eating her own beef and the vegetables from her garden. (Schilke sells her cattle only to buyers who will finish raising them outside the shale area, where she presumes that any chemical contamination will clear after a few months.) ‘My health improved,’ Schilke says, ‘but I thought, “Oh my God, what are we doing to this land?”’….
      “Exposed animals ‘are making their way into the food system, and it’s very worrisome to us,’ Bamberger says. ‘They live in areas that have tested positive for air, water and soil contamination. Some of these chemicals could appear in milk and meat products made from these animals.” ….
      “The following year’s animal births were sexually skewed, with ten females and two males, instead of the usual 50-50 or 60-40 split.

    • Dr. Anne Lee Tomlinson Maziar anne

      “In addition to the cases documented by Bamberger, hair testing of sick cattle that grazed around well pads in New Mexico found petroleum residues in fifty-four of fifty-six animals. In North Dakota, wind-borne fly ash, which is used to solidify the waste from drilling holes and contains heavy metals, settled over a farm: one cow, which either inhaled or ingested the caustic dust, died, and a stock pond was contaminated with arsenic at double the accepted level for drinking water.
      “Cattle that die on the farm don’t make it into the nation’s food system. (Though they’re often rendered to make animal feed for chickens and pigs—yet another cause for concern.) But herd mates that appear healthy, despite being exposed to the same compounds, do: farmers aren’t required to prove their livestock are free of fracking contaminants before middlemen purchase them. Bamberger and Oswald consider these animals sentinels for human health. “They’re outdoors all day long, so they’re constantly exposed to air, soil and groundwater, with no break to go to work or the supermarket,” Bamberger says. “And they have more frequent reproductive cycles, so we can see toxic effects much sooner than with humans.”
      “Fracking a single well requires up to 7 million gallons of water, plus an additional 400,000 gallons of additives, including lubricants, biocides, scale and rust inhibitors, solvents, foaming and defoaming agents, emulsifiers and de-emulsifiers, stabilizers and breakers.

    • Dr. Anne Lee Tomlinson Maziar anne

      About 70 percent of the liquid that goes down a borehole eventually comes up—now further tainted with such deep-earth compounds as sodium, chloride, bromide, arsenic, barium, uranium, radium and radon. (These substances occur naturally, but many of them can cause illness if ingested or inhaled over time.) This super-salty “produced” water, or brine, can be stored on-site for reuse. Depending on state regulations, it can also be held in plastic-lined pits until it evaporates, is injected back into the earth, or gets hauled to municipal wastewater treatment plants, which aren’t designed to neutralize or sequester fracking chemicals (in other words, they’re discharged with effluent into nearby streams).
      “At almost every stage of developing and operating an oil or gas well, chemicals and compounds can be introduced into the environment. Radioactive material above background levels has been detected in air, soil and water at or near gas-drilling sites. Volatile organic compounds—including benzene, toluene, ethylene and xylene—waft from flares, engines, compressors, pipelines, flanges, open tanks, spills and ponds. (The good news: VOCs don’t accumulate in animals or plants. The bad news: inhalation exposure is linked to cancer and organ damage.)
      “Underground, petrochemicals can migrate along fissures through abandoned or orphaned wells or leaky well casings (the oil and gas industry estimates that 60 percent of wells will leak over a thirty-year period).

    • Dr. Anne Lee Tomlinson Maziar anne

      Brine can spill from holding ponds or pipelines. It can be spread, legally in some places, on roadways to control dust and melt ice. Truck drivers have also been known to illegally dump this liquid in creeks or fields, where animals can drink it or lick it from their fur.
      “Although energy companies don’t make a habit of telling potential lease signers about the environmental risks they might face, the Securities and Exchange Commission requires them to inform potential investors. In a 2008 filing, Cabot Industries cited “well site blowouts, cratering and explosions; equipment failures; uncontrolled flows of natural gas, oil or well fluids; fires; formations with abnormal pressures; pollution and other environmental risks.” In 2011, oil companies in North Dakota reported more than 1,000 accidental releases of oil, drilling wastewater or other fluids, with many more releases likely unreported. Between 2008 and 2011, drilling companies in Pennsylvania reported 2,392 violations of law that posed a direct threat to the environment and safety of communities. …
      “ (Lab rats exposed to the carcinogen 2-butoxyethanol, a solvent used in fracking, have 
lost their tails, but a similar connection with cattle hasn’t been shown. In people, breathing, touching or consuming enough of the chemical can lead to pulmonary edema and coma.)
      “Schilke ranch cow that has lost its tail, one of many ailments found in cattle following hydrofracturing of the Bakken Shale in North Dakota. …

    • Dr. Anne Lee Tomlinson Maziar anne

      Upon examination, the animal’s liver was found to be full of tunnels and its lungs congested with pneumonia. Before the year was out, five cows had died, in addition to several cats and two dogs. (A feline autopsy came back inconclusive, but subsequent hair testing of cows, cats and dogs revealed sulfate levels high enough to cause polio in cattle.) Inside Schilke’s house today, where the china cabinets are kept empty for fear of a shattering drill-site explosion, nearly a dozen cats sneeze and cough, some with their heads tilted at a creepy angle.
      “Before the drilling started, two cars a day traveled down Schilke’s gravel road. Now, it’s 300 trucks hauling sand, fresh water, wastewater, chemicals, drill cuttings and drilling equipment. Most of the tankers are placarded for hazardous or radioactive material. Drilling and fracking a single well requires 2,000 truck trips, and each pass of a vehicle sends a cyclone of dust and exhaust fumes into the air. Mailbox numbers are obliterated, conversations are choked off, and animals die of “dust pneumonia.” (More formally known as bovine respiratory disease, the illness is associated with viral, fungal and bacterial infection.) …
      “By design, secrecy shrouds the hydrofracking process, casting a shadow that extends over consumers’ right to know if their food is safe.

    • Dr. Anne Lee Tomlinson Maziar anne

      Federal loopholes crafted under former Vice President Dick Cheney have exempted energy companies from key provisions of the Clean Air, Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water Acts, the Toxics Release Inventory, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires a full review of actions that may cause significant environmental impacts. If scientists and citizens can’t find out precisely what is in drilling or fracking fluids or air emissions at any given time, it’s difficult to test whether any contaminants have migrated into the water, soil or food—and whether they can harm humans. It gets even more complicated: without information on the interactions between these chemicals and others already existing in the environment, an animal’s cause of death, Bamberger says, “is anyone’s guess.” …
      “No one doubts that fracking fluids have the potential to do serious harm. Theo Colborn, an environmental health analyst and former director of the World Wildlife Fund’s wildlife and contaminants program, identified 632 chemicals used in 
natural-gas production. More than 75 percent of them, she said, could affect sensory organs and the respiratory and 
gastrointestinal systems; 40 to 50 percent have potential impacts on the kidneys and on the nervous, immune and 
cardiovascular systems; 37 percent act on the hormone system; and 25 percent are linked with cancer or mutations….

    • Dr. Anne Lee Tomlinson Maziar anne

      “Clearly, the technology to extract gas from shale has advanced faster, and with a lot more public funding, than has the study of its various effects. To date, there have been no systematic, peer-reviewed, long-term studies of the health effects of hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas production (one short-term, peer-reviewed study found that fracking emissions may contribute to acute and chronic health problems for people living near drill sites). And the risks to food safety may be even more difficult to parse.
      “However, some institutions that specialize in risk have started to connect the dots. Nationwide Mutual Insurance, which sells agricultural insurance, recently announced that it would not cover damages related to fracking. Rabobank, the world’s largest agricultural bank, reportedly no longer sells mortgages to farmers with gas leases. And in the boldest move yet by a government official, Christopher Portier, director of the National Center for Environmental Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, called for studies that “include all the ways people can be exposed, such as through air, water, soil, plants and animals.” While the EPA is in the midst of a $1.9 million study of fracking’s impact on water, no government agency has taken up Portier’s challenge to study plants and animals.

    • Dr. Anne Lee Tomlinson Maziar anne

      “East of the Rockies, intensive drilling and fracking have pushed levels of smog, or ground-level ozone, higher than those of Los Angeles. Ozone significantly diminishes crop yields and reduces the nutritional value of forage. Flaring of raw gas can acidify soil and send fine particulate matter into the air; long-term exposure to this material has been linked to human heart and lung diseases and disruption to the endocrine system. Earlier this year, the Environmental Protection Agency finalized standards that require reductions in airborne emissions from gas wells, although the industry has more than two years to comply.
      “Besides clean air, farmers need clean water—lots of it. But some farmers now find themselves competing with energy companies for this increasingly precious resource. At water auctions in Colorado, the oil and gas industry has paid utilities up to twenty times the price that farmers typically pay. In Wyoming, ranchers have switched from raising beef to selling their water. …
      “Nor do the 16,200 members of the Park Slope Food Co-op in Brooklyn, which buys one cow per week from Jaffe. “If hydrofracking is allowed in New York State, the co-op will have to stop buying from farms anywhere near the drilling because of fears of contamination,” says Joe Holtz, general manager of the co-op. That’s $4 million in direct sales, with economic multipliers up and down the local food chain, affecting seed houses, creameries, equipment manufacturers and so on. …”

    • moonshellblue moonshellblue

      Thank you PA Gov. Tom Corbett. I hope he does not get re-elected. I know I did not vote for this man that is allowing companies to Frack away our beautiful farmland tax free ( this is the money he used to get elected) while individuals are losing their homes because of the high rate of property tax. I don't think our state can handle another four years of his lack of leadership. JMHO

  • dharmasyd dharmasyd

    The folks in charge of fracking should lose their tails, their horns, an all other accoutrements of satanism!

  • Sickputer

    Anne… I love your diligence, but eleven consecutive posts with 23 paragraphs from a single website URL? Great topic, but I'd rather have 11 different article references and make my own choices to read or not.

    I will make one comment about the rancher lady's dire situation so this post is not just a nag…

    The fact she (or any of us) switches to bottled water isn't going to save anyone in a massive fracking region. The crappy water is still going to be used to bath, shower, and wash clothes. Not as bad as drinking it, but the skin exposure is the hidden danger most of us don't think about. Skin exposure alone will be enough to kill or mutanize most human victims.

    It's not just just well water that is fracked-up. Municipal water is getting so bad that it probably won't require Fukushima Unit 4 collapse to exterminate North American humans. We are all getting slowly killed by our water resources ruined by the Big Brother-condoned frackers.

    I saw a 100-rail car train today pulled by four engines in West Texas. The tankers cars were all oil field chemicals. Coal trains from Wyoming are slowing…there is a new paradigm in energy production and the effects will be devastating.

    Water resources are getting quickly to a tipping point. The frackers are trying to get as much money in their pockets before they get shut down. But if they get even another five years we will all be dying mutants by the time Big Brother notices he has terminal cancer.


  • PurpleRain PurpleRain

    OMG! This is disgusting! We have to put an immediate STOP to this!!! And WHY, oh WHY would these people be exempt from environmental laws!!! WHY. WHY. WHY. They are the ones causing all the harm!!! We have to stop this! This is right up there with the nuclear poison! I just googled every stop fracking petition that I could find! What else???!!!

    • dosdos dosdos

      Dick Chenney made fracking legal, free of ecological law restrictions, for his friends in Halliburton. The rest is the poisoning of America on a wholesale level.

  • Sol Man

    People, it is far from early.

  • rakingmuck

    So very very sad. All of this in the name of Petrodollar warfare. As the super powers of the world stop using pertrodollars because our currency carries with it increased inflation and also is not backed by any tangible assets (gold) there is a war raging to preserve the dollar. This is the real reason behind our decision to invade Iraq and tangle in the affairs of Libya. All of the fracking has yielded enough reserves to last the US 100 YEARS so that we are no longer dependent on oil from the middle east. But the cost may well have been the earth beneath our feet, our food chain, our water supply.

  • davidh7426 davidh7426

    Dear Gaia.

    It's my non-medical diagnosis that your planet is suffering from a potentially fatal dose of 'MAN'. I truly sorry about it, but I'm afraid that it's probably incurable.

  • Mack Mack


    Only 3% of the water on Earth is fresh water,

    and studies say only 1% of Earth's water is drinkable.

    Now, look at this quote from the article:

    "Fracking a single well requires up to 7 million gallons of water"

    7 million gallons for one single well

    And nuclear power plants can use up to 20,000 gallons of fresh water per minute!

    WATER is the most "precious" source for sustaining life…and look where it's going.

  • @Mack, That's a great point. Seems the Natural Gas interests left that part out of the commercials.

  • moonshellblue moonshellblue

    I hope all the individuals in Erie, PA are enjoying the money that these companies handed them to Frack on their land. They could offere me a million dollars, I'd tell them to go pound sand, hmm maybe I'd better re-phrase that. But really what good is money if you destroy your environment kinda like don't shit where ya eat. I mean, it's just common sense? Isn't it?