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New worries on hydrofracking as UT considers lease for drilling

As the Knoxville News Sentinel reported, dozens of residents and property owners attended an open house recently, questioning University of Tennessee officials about a plan by the school to open its land to natural gas drilling.
Under the proposal, the university would lease for drilling its forest land — 8,350 acres in Morgan and Scott counties — to an oil company.
Extraction would entail hydraulic fracturing and royalties from the oil or natural gas produced would finance research by the school on environmental impacts of this new, and controversial, technology.
Cattle farmers whose property adjoins the university land were among those seeking information and reassurance regarding the proposal. “I think we need the energy,” one stated, “but they need to prove that [its extraction] can be done safely.”
Growing concerns among farmers about fracking — in shale regions where drilling is at its height — are not unfounded. Day-to-day operations can be substantially disrupted during well fracking.
As Elizabeth Royte relates from a North Dakota cattle ranch kown for its excellent black Angus beef, 300 trucks haul “fresh water, wastewater, chemicals, drill cuttings and drilling equipment” every day where, before, two vehicles traversed.
A single well requires 2,000 truck trips, from which dust and exhaust fumes choke farmers and animals.
A multitude of chemicals going into air and soil at fracking sites, down every borehole or directly onto land through accidental releases — farmers fear these to be behind illnesses and deaths of their animals.
Seventeen cows died in Louisiana after an hour’s exposure to spilled fracking fluid.
Of 140 cattle exposed to fracking wastewater when an impoundment broke in north central Pennsylvania, some 70 cows died and of 11 calves produced by the remainder, only three survived.
Elsewhere in Pennsylvania, half the calves of cows grazing where fracking chemicals had overflowed onto pastureland were born dead.
In North Dakota, the rancher’s animals became sick — five cows and several cats and two dogs dying — when a drilling well leaked.
After “a $5,000 bull [was put] out of its misery with a bullet,” its liver was found to be full of tunnels and its lungs congested with pneumonia.
Evidence such as this, from heavily fracked regions, is causing increasing concern for farmers, veterinary-medicine scientists and food scientists.
Many of the more than 600 chemicals used in fracking have potential to seriously harm animal and human body systems.
Indirectly, harm could come through plants the animals ingest, different plants being known to take up different compounds — arsenic and uranium, for instance — from soil or water.
It all adds up to some worry about food safety, about whether “animals either tainted or sickened by those chemicals could enter the food chain undetected.”
The announced UT “research into how fracking affects surrounding wildlife, geology and air and water quality” seems useful and timely in light of these emerging concerns.
One must hope, for the public-health implications, that its funding through the oil industry itself will not taint any scientific findings it might reveal.