Fracking dumps millions of gallons of toxic chemicals into Gulf of Mexico

“Offshore fracking threatens Gulf communities and wildlife far more than our government has acknowledged.”

A crane takes flight in Mobile, Alabama. On the horizon is one of many oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. michaelbwatkins / iStock / Getty Images Plus

fracking boom in the Gulf of Mexico poses a major risk to human health and wildlife, a new report from the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) has found.

The report, published Wednesday, calculated that oil and gas companies had dumped at least 66.3 million gallons of fracking fluids into the vulnerable waters of the Gulf between 2010 and 2020 with government approval.

“Offshore fracking threatens Gulf communities and wildlife far more than our government has acknowledged. To protect life and our climate, we should ban these extreme extraction techniques,” CBD oceans program director Miyoko Sakashita said in a press release. “A decade into the offshore fracking boom, officials still haven’t properly studied its public health impacts. The failure to curb this major source of pollution is astounding and unacceptable.”

CBD compiled its figures based on scientific studies and federal reports obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request. The figures reveal both the extent of industrial pollution and the fact that the federal government has allowed it.

There has been a fracking boom in the Gulf of Mexico in the past decade, and the waters off Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas account for around 98 percent of all the offshore oil and gas produced in the U.S. Since 2010, the federal government has approved at least 3,039 incidences of fracking and at least 760 incidences of acidizing in the area.

fish in sea
Fracking puts the Gulf of Mexico’s unique wildlife at risk. Rodrigo Friscione / Cultura / Getty Images

When fracking occurs, water and chemicals are blasted into the seafloor to release oil and gas. Acidizing, on the other hand, involves using hydrofluoric and hydrochloric acid to carve channels in the rock for the fossil fuels to flow out.

“The federal government allows oil companies to dump produced wastewater, including fracking and acidizing chemicals, into the Gulf without limit,” the report authors wrote.

There is evidence that the chemicals involved in fracking can harm human and animal health. They have been shown to kill marine life in laboratory settings at concentrations equal to the ones measured near fracking platforms. Chemicals involved in fracking can also cause reproductive harm, cancer and death.

Further, fracking contributes to the climate crisis and threatens the economy of the Gulf. Tourism and fishing, which are both put at risk by offshore fracking, create more than 10 times the jobs that the fossil fuel industry provides.

To address its findings, CBD called on the federal government to halt all fracking and acidizing permits in the Gulf and to ban the release of toxic chemicals. Further, the organization called on the Secretary of Interior to create a program for restoring and protecting Gulf communities and workers impacted by the fossil fuel industry.

Fracking isn’t the only way that fossil fuels harm the Gulf and its ecosystems, of course. The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill continues to harm human and animal health ten years after the fact, as National Geographic reported in 2020. And an Oceana report also published that year warned that another such disaster could easily occur in the same waters.

“Offshore drilling is still as dirty and dangerous as it was 10 years ago,” Oceana campaign director Diane Hoskins said at the time. “If anything, another disaster is more likely today as the oil industry drills deeper and farther offshore.”


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