Elizabeth Royte reports in The Nation:
The possibility of chemical contamination aside, oil and gas operations have already affected food producers. “I lost six acres of hayfields when the gas company put roads in,” says Terry Greenwood, a rancher in western Pennsylvania. “Now I have to buy more feed for my cattle.” (Like other farmers hurt by drilling and fracking, he still pays taxes on his unproductive land.) Others have lost the use of stock ponds or creeks to brine spills.
“We’ve got 12,000 wells in the Bakken, and they each take up six acres,” says Mark Trechock, former director of the Dakota Resource Council. “That’s 72,000 acres right there, without counting the waste facilities, access roads, stored equipment and man camps that go along with the wells.” Before the drilling boom, that land might have produced durum wheat, barley, oats, canola, flax, sunflowers, pinto beans, lentils and peas. In Pennsylvania, where nearly 6,500 wells have been drilled since 2000, the Nature Conservancy estimates that thirty acres are directly or indirectly affected for every well pad.
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. Unwilling to risk her animals’ health to creek water that’s possibly tainted, Schilke spent $4,000 last summer hauling safe water from town to her ranch. “I’d wait in line for hours,” she says, “usually behind tanker trucks buying water to frack wells.”