In April 2010, a pit with hydraulic fracturing waste (aka "frack flowback") leaked on a farm in Tioga County, Pennsylvania. The owners of the farm found the leak in the pasture for their beef cattle. Testing of the waste found chloride, iron, sulfate, barium, magnesium, manganese, potassium, sodium, strontium and calcium. The spill killed vegetation, and the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture quarantined 28 head of cattle.
StateImpact, a news outlet in Pennsylvania, recently interviewed Carol Johnson, the owner of the farm along with her husband, to follow up on this story. Here is what they found:
- Of the original 28 cows, ten yearlings are still quarantined.
- Of eleven calves born this spring, only 3 have survived.
Ms. Johnson, who has been raising cattle for 53 years and has considerable expertise, stated: "It’s abominable. They were born dead or extremely weak. It’s highly unusual,” she said. “I might lose one or two calves a year, but I don’t lose eight out of eleven.”
Necropsies were conducted on two of the calves and concluded that E. coli bacteria were the cause of death. A veterinarian consulted by Ms. Johnson said if the cows did consume the frack waste, it could have compromised their immune system, so the ultimate cause remains inconclusive.
As I've blogged before, there are reports from farmers about health impacts on livestock near oil and gas operations around the country, from North Dakota to Texas, and east to Pennsylvania. NRDC has called on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to launch an investigation into the reported health effects on livestock and crops located near natural gas extraction sites, including implications for organic certification.