Living with the fracking industry as a neighbor


Reporter- Briana Conner
Photographer- David Dycus

FAULKNER COUNTY, Ar.- Some people who aren't big fans of fracking are fighting against the industry from their own backyards. Life near a well can be profitable for people who own mineral rights, but it can also be dangerous. As some southern Illinois counties prepare for fracking, we investigate the rewards and the risks of having the industry as a neighbor.

The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality found six pollutants in the air around frack wells and compressor stations in 2008. The Environmental Protection Agency says exposure to some of the chemicals can cause respiratory issues, irritations to the eyes, nose, and throat, headaches, nausea, organ damage, and even cancer. Researchers in Arkansas rarely detected pollutant levels that would present a public health risk, but also say the instruments used weren't always adequate. People who deal with fracking close to home say they're ready to move.

Dirk Deturck moved to Faulkner County in 2004 and said the backyard and the view sold him. He said, "There's about 900 acres back there of nothing." That was until 2009. "A drilling rig popped up back there out of the woods," Deturck said. Now, four years later, his property sits downwind from six fracking wells, two compressor stations, and two injection sites. They're all part of an operation scientifically linked to pollution and earthquakes. "The rural community is a sacrifice for this energy," said Deturck.

It's a sacrifice that also includes ruined roads, property damage, and a number of health concerns. Deturck said, "I'm starting to really worry that we're getting poisoned. The animals were my first clue." Deturck took pictures to document squirrels on his property that he said started developing tumors, shedding their hair, and even completely losing their tails.

Activist April Lane said it's a side effect of toxic emissions. "You get a little bit of nausea. Sometimes you'll get tingling lips. Today, I definitely got a headache when I got here. That's extremely common." Lane says her group monitors the air around compressor stations on a regular basis. Their tests have detected cancer causing agents like formaldehyde. "We're showing that people are really being exposed to some high levels of toxins," she said.

Fracking in Arkansas is an industry, loosely monitored, that has the power to build businesses and schools. It's also one that can come along with problems for people like Deturck, who said the only solution, is "sell the house and move."

The long-term health affects of fracking are still largely unknown, because the practice is still so new.