Massachusetts lawmakers are pushing legislation that would place a decade-long ban on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the state. Fracking is a damaging and dangerous method used by energy companies to extract natural gas from the earth.

Last week, the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Environment and Natural Resources approved the 10-year moratorium. Because fracking has been linked to groundwater contamination, and groundwater is the main source of drinking water in Massachusetts’ Pioneer Valley, environmentalists are lobbying hard to see the bill become law.

Fracking is a method of raw fuel extraction that incorporates the use of millions of gallons of water and tens of thousands of gallons of chemicals. Many of the chemicals are dangerous toxins and carcinogens, including lead, mercury, hydrochloric acid, and uranium. As the chemicals travel deeper down the well, there is leakage into the groundwater.

When these chemicals are consumed by way of drinking water, they have been known to cause damage to many of the physiological functions of the human body, such as the respiratory and neurological systems.

Outside of human harm, fracking has been linked to unusual seismic activity in non-seismic areas.

Last week, on Thanksgiving, the state of Texas experienced a 3.6 magnitude earthquake in a continuous, three-week string of tremors. In November, there were 16 earthquakes in north Texas. In 37 years, from 1970 to 2007, that area of Texas only saw two earthquakes. However, that number jumped to 74 in 2008, close to the time when fracking really started to take off in the region. Central Oklahoma has seen a near identical trend.    

Only one to three earthquakes happened in central Oklahoma from 1975 to 2008, but also beginning in 2008, that region of the state has seen an average of 40 per year. Scientists and experts associate that jump in seismic activity with fracking. However, it is not the drilling aspect of fracking that scientists are saying is the apparent cause.

The United States Geological Survey released a study examining known fracking areas in the country and increased seismic activity. The study suggested that although the actual drilling is unlikely to be the cause, wastewater disposal is  more likely to agitate seismicity as “at some locations the increase in seismicity coincides with the injection of wastewater in deep disposal wells.”

If wastewater is dumped or leaks into an underground fault line as “washback,” that water seeps in between the earth’s plates and provides a sort of lubrication that enables freer movement, thus increasing the risk of seismic activity.

The Massachusetts bill still has a lengthy journey ahead before it can become law. It’s still pending passage through the Massachusetts state congress and has to signed Gov. Deval Patrick. Patrick is a Democrat which gives the bill a better chance of becoming a law once it hits his desk.

This bill will “ensure that the health and prosperity of our communities is maintained,” said bill co-sponsor state Rep. Peter Kocot.

Josh is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire. Follow him on Twitter @dnJdeli.