Common Sense Canadian

Fracking, dead cows and…RADIATION?

Posted November 8, 2013 by Damien Gillis in Energy and Resources
Fracking, dead cows and radiation

Alberta cattle rancher Howard Hawkwood (photo courtesy of Green Planet Monitor)

Alberta cattle rancher Howard Hawkwood has a beef with the local fracking industry. He’s convinced the controversial technique for gas extraction is responsible for killing off 18 of his cows and large swaths of his property near Airdrie, Alberta.

An online radio program released today contains some shocking allegations of impacts of fracking on the ranch Hawkwood runs with his wife Nielle, a half hour drive northwest of Calgary. Nielle has recently lost some of her hair and the Hawkwoods have seen 10 percent of their cattle herd die from a mysterious illness they believe is connected to fracking and related radiation.

The revelation comes on the heels of evidence south of the border suggesting that the process of drilling deep underground and cracking open shale formations to extract gas is also dredging up  naturally occurring radiation and pulling it to the surface.

Dead spots, dead cows

Howard describes their experience to program host David Kattenberg of the Green Planet Monitor – including 1-2 acres of dead patches on their farm, which tests reveal contain alarming levels of radioactivity. (Listen to the full program here – Howard’s interview begins at the 19 min mark)

“Towards calving season, we noticed some cows weren’t doing that great…Then all the sudden these cows started to crash – they would go down and they wouldn’t get up,” Hawkwood explains. “We did blood testing on these cows and we found out the sodium and the chlorides were out of balance, so I asked the veterinarian, ‘So, what do we do?’. And the vet did some research and we don’t know. We don’t know how to handle this.”

Hawkwood goes on to describe the series of dead patches that have sprung up after fracking activities began near his ranch.

These are the dead spots in the field, where my cows have urinated. This all showed up last spring…We’ve actually taken soil samples of the dead spot and a sample from a foot and a half away and we’ve got high levels of radon, barium, uranium, strontium, and magnesium is extremely high.

“This spot here has never changed,” Hawkwood explains. “It’s been here since June. It’s dead. And I estimate that on my entire ranch I’ve maybe lost 1-2 acres of land due to this. Really, nothing grows…Nothing will germinate in that soil.”

“And you think this has got to do with the fracking?” asks the show’s host.

“Oh, I think so. Definitely. Because the cows have been drinking out of my well water, and the chemicals or whatever’s in there – we don’t know what’s in there, they won’t tell us – and it’s killed this.”

Radioactive fracking in Pennsylvania

This is not the first time hydraulic fracturing has been tied to radiation. Just last month, a study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology found radioactive water connected fracking operations in Pennsylvania. According to a Bloomberg story on the subject:

Naturally occurring radiation brought to the surface by gas drillers has been detected in a Pennsylvania creek that flows into the Allegheny River, illustrating the risks of wastewater disposal from the boom in hydraulic fracturing.

Speak no evil

Mr. Hawkwood believes many other ranchers are experiencing similar issues, but are afraid to speak out – some because of non-disclosure agreements they’ve signed with the industry.

The other ranchers are experiencing the same thing but they don’t want to come forward, because they don’t want to create a problem. Or they have oil and gas on their property and they’ve had to sign non-disclosure agreements. One fellow told me that if he does a cow problem, he phones them and he’s got a cheque in the mail – as long as he doesn’t speak up.

Hawkwood appears to be the exception to the rule. He’s reached his boiling point of late and has some strong words for government regulators he feels are letting down families like his.

Something has got to change

After showing host Kattenberg a 4-year-old cow  who died the previous night, Hawkwood declares, “I am totally – maybe I shouldn’t say this – pissed off with our government.” Hawkwood continues:

Governments are supposed to protect us…and when this cow dies, and the number of cows I’ve lost and  hear about other farmers and ranchers who’ve had the same experience and the same problem…now, if this keeps up and it’s going to create more problems, we’re not even going to have a cattle herd. It is a real nightmare in this province and in this country…and something has to change.

Hawkwood is calling for a shale gas moratorium – such as was recently passed in Newfoundland – “until we can find a way to do this safely.”

Meanwhile, in neighbouring British Columbia, a leaked government memo sparked controversy yesterday for its discussion of gutting of the 40-year-old Agricultural Land Reserve in order to prioritize gas development.


About the Author

Damien Gillis

Damien Gillis is a Vancouver-based documentary filmmaker with a focus on environmental and social justice issues - especially relating to water, energy, and saving Canada's wild salmon - working with many environmental organizations in BC and around the world. He is the co-founder, along with Rafe Mair, of The Common Sense Canadian, and a board member of both the BC Environmental Network and the Haig-Brown Institute.


    Amanda Fleming



    The only way to draw more attention to this problem is to get the landowners who signed
    disclosure agreements with these evil corperations( I say evil because anyone who sacrifices
    the lives of animals,people and the environment for profit should be considered evil) to come forward and break their agreement and tell the world how they were decieved into allowing
    this to happen to them. Let this be a warning for anyone who is approached by these companies and asked to allow fracking on their properties. DON’T ALLOW IT ! Fight it with
    every fibre of your being. It is your health,land and futur generations you are fighting to
    protect. What’s that worth to you ?


    I recently watched a show on Knowledge Network of Universities in the USA getting engineering students to design completely self sufficient homes–no gas, no electricity etc. In Irvine Cal. they have a village of different homes from all over the country set up for a competition. Is Canada showing any leadership at all in this–we have all these brilliant young people [and old] who could put their minds to this problem and we would be free of this industry and our need for what they supply. We, the people cannot do this–we need our leaders to provide the incentives for our scientists to tackle these problems. We are going in circles year and year–fracking and its horrible side effects were exposed years [at least 5] so why is it still happening. When do we stand up and scream bloody murder at our politicians and tell them to change direction.!! Maybe we do it all nicely [we are Canadians after all and are very nice] and vote in the Green Party to govern us. Boy, wouldn’t that be something!! They did it in Germany–the people spoke out and gave their green candidates the mandate to do something!

    Marilyn C.

    I live in Nova Scotia where we have a moratorium on fracking until next year. We are all so concerned that we will have to face the realities of fracking that all of you in western Canada already have. We are being told by industry proponents that there are no problems going on with fracking anywhere in Canada – cause they are doing it “right” and will do it “right” in Nova Scotia. Bullsh##. Those citizens who speak out in N.S. and N.B. against fracking are told their concerns are “hogwash”, “void of facts or science” and are “fear-mongering”. It is so insulting and demeaning when industry representatives marginalizes tax-paying citizens who have a different focus for acheiving a good life other than the pursuit of money with no regard for the environment.

    If our governments would just give all the money they spend promoting/defending the oil and gas industry to small companies who want to build local wind turbines and solar panels, we could have employment opportunities and help reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. God help us all……

      Rural Alberta

      “Those citizens who speak out in N.S. and N.B. against fracking are told their concerns are ‘hogwash’, ‘void of facts or science’ and are ‘fear-mongering’.”

      I hope you stand strong out east and don’t let them in – the industry talks out of both sides of their mouth, and then they sue each other over it.

      “After 60 Years of Hydraulic Fracturing Research, Technology Development & Experience

      We Can Safely Say That We Know
      Everything There Is To Know
      About Hydraulically Created Fractures


      How Deeply They Penetrate
      Their Vertical Extents
      Their Symmetries About the Wellbore
      Whether They Are Planar or Multi-stranded
      Their Geometries At The Perimeter
      Which Directions They Go
      What Their Conductivities Are



      “Birch Lake Energy Inc. says that Bernum Petroleum Ltd. has filed a statement of claim against Birch Lake regarding the Company’s Lochend Assets, being the non-operated working interest of 40% in certain petroleum and natural gas rights underlying 7,760 gross acres (2,718 net) in the Lochend-Bearspaw area of Alberta. …

      … The Company has taken immediate steps to vigorously defend this claim and preserve its rights in the joint venture assets including a detailed review of the completion operations on the initial well which led to the apparent collapse of the production casing string during the frac operation and the resulting loss of more than half the productive well bore.

      The Corporation is also conducting a detailed review of the drilling operations of the second well during which intermediate casing was not able to be successfully run to depth drilled, resulting in drilling difficulties during the horizontal section and the eventual loss of the horizontal section after nearly reaching total depth.”

      serious joe

      If you like consistent, reliable electrical power, you’ve got to realize that adding wind and solar electrical generation… I call it weather-power… to a level beyond about ten percent of baseline demand… causes the power companies to add natural gas turbine power plants (the only kind of power plant that can ramp up, and ramp down, rapidly enough to compensate for fluctuations in output from solar and wind)… which end up consuming more gas than if you just skipped the weather-power sources in the first place, and just added in gas power plants instead. A new gas power plant (run at steady power levels) is very efficient… but if you make it dispatchable, (make it compensate for variations from weather-power) then it is less efficient (just like your car, if you have a steady foot on the gas pedal, you get good economy, but if you floor it, then brake hard, then floor it, then brake hard… your economy suffers). It takes about ten thousand dollars’ worth of natural gas, and about eight hours, to take a gas power plant from “off” to “on” and ready to connect to the grid… so it becomes cheaper to just keep them on-line, burning gas, generating little to NO electricity, so that, at any moment, they can jump in and pick up load from slacking wind or solar facilities… in order to keep the grid stable. At any point in time, at all points in time, the electrical generation of power must exactly match the power being consumed on the grid… no more, no less. The “grid” cannot store electrical power. An excess of electrical power will cause generation facilities to be “dumped” off the grid (lest the frequency of the grid soar above 60 Hertz)… a mismatch between load and power available on the “grid” will cause loads to be shed; to some homes, this means that the “smart” equipment switches off non-essential stuff like electric hot water heaters or air conditioning equipment… If that isn’t enough, blackouts happen (lest the frequency of the grid dip below 60 Hertz). Excess solar and wind power generated in Germany has been such a problem for them that they have actually PAID other european countries to take their excess power (lest the grid frequency soar, for them, above 50 Hertz)… they PAID to get rid of their excess power! How is that for a “return on investment”? With any technology we have today, or that I can foresee for the next decade, a weather-powered electrical grid is absolutely impossible (if the grid is to be kept stable, that is, at 60 Hertz and the appropriate voltage, within specifications)… IF you don’t mind electricity that, on some days, fries your microwave oven, and on other nights, leaves you with no illumination and no heat (well, perhaps no fan to blow the heat through your ducts, if you have a gas furnace)… then you can have weather-powered generation for your electricity. Look at Germany – they spent heavily on weather power! What are they doing now? They are dumping the subsidies for weather power, and bringing COAL POWERED electrical generating facilities on-line as fast as they can.. Why? weather-power (solar, wind) has taken the cost of electricity from 0.20 (2000) to 5.28 (2013)… twenty-six times more expensive. Sunshiny O’ahu (Hawaii, USA) has STOPPED allowing any more solar-paneled homes to connect to the grid. Why? Unstable power generation… Now they are working on new specifications that will require home solar panels to automatically disconnect themselves from the grid when the grid frequency rises (the old ones could do that, too, but their settings were too high; the new ones disconnect sooner). You must either join the Amish or Mennonites (be a luddite, use no electricity), or burn fossil fuels, or encourage nuclear electrical generation. I suggest you admit you’re a luddite, and you should go live like one. Or, go roof your house with solar photovoltaics, put up wind turbines, fill your basement with batteries, and enjoy your high-tech life. Then you’ll have personal experience in being an electrical generation utility. When the lights go out, call yourself!


    A man should be sure what the problem is before the finger points.Everyone is always ready to blame anything to do with the oil and gas industry.Has there been any testing on these cows?

      Rural Alberta

      Doesn’t sound like the oil companies have a problem with the “finger points” … as long as you keep your mouth shut.

      “The one fellow, he told me that if he does have a cow problem, he phones them and he’s got a cheque in the mail – as long as he doesn’t speak up.”

      Damien Gillis

      Yes, Dwayne. Did you not read the article before commenting? There has been blood work done by a veterinarian on the cows – revealing sodium and chlorides out of balance. Then testing on the dead soil, which is filled with radiation.

      I think a man can stand on his land, take a look around at the industrial activity encroaching on it, consider the loss of his livestock, his livelihood, his wife’s hair, the threats to his own health and point a finger exactly where he feels it needs to be pointed.

        serious joe

        Soil cannot be “filled with radiation”. It may be “filled with radioactive material”. Radiation is like light; you cannot hold light in your hand, but you can hold a flashlight. There is a difference between radioactive material (which emits radiation) and radiation. If you demonstrate to me that you don’t know the difference, you have proven that your are incompetent in that subject. That’s not an insult, you are likely an expert in your own field. Much like people who complain that their food is “full of chemicals” … food IS chemicals, by the way… 100% pure molecules of chemicals. Radioactive material is present, pretty much everywhere. Want to cut your lifetime radiation dose almost in half? Sleep alone. The radioactive potassium-40 in your partner’s body contributes to almost half of your lifetime radiation dose. Here in Alberta (high elevation) the radiation dose to the typical resident is elevated, compared to someone who lives at sea-level, because of the cosmic radiation which “zaps” us Albertans at a higher rate than Vancouver-ites, because we have less atmosphere above us to shield us. Airline personnel (pilots, flight attendants) get a much higher radiation dose (again, from cosmic radiation) than most of us (several TIMES bigger) yet death and disease due to radiation is NOT what plagues the airline personnel, is it? So the presence of radioactive material in the farmer’s soil is, to me, meaningless, unless the levels are cited. In particular, samples from the “not-dead” zones in the farmer’s field would be good to analyze (the same way) to provide comparative values.

      serious joe

      Dwayne, you’re the SANE commenter on this. The vet tested the cow, the result being “we don’t know” (whatever that means).

    Northern Albertan

    I live in Northern AB and have been on many Fracs. Im ashamed of myslef now knowing now what fracking does to the Earth and its inhabitants. Its a huge plan by the off shore elite to depopulate the world. Im with Ron Landry on this one. The Truth is ..We do not need oil or gas ..there are technologies that exist that would eliminate the need for fossil fuels. And these technologies are being actively suppressed by the Global Elite. is a grouo of scientists who have all of these advanced technologies. If we were to develope them and use them the world would change dramaticly for the good…in a short time.. We all need to realise that there is a evil force that is at War with Humanity. We all need to stand up and say NO.
    Humans are creators ..and we have power in numbers. These Criminals in the socalled govt need to go to prision and real humans need to take thier place in positions of authority. A Government that works against the people…is not a government at all.. its a Tyranny.

      serious joe

      I totally agree. We need to stand up and say, “NO” to tyrannical GREENIES, who are the footmen and useful idiots for the global elite. The greenies would like all the rest of us to die off, and depopulate the world (leaving it for them!). /sarc off

      I’m afraid that you vote, too.

    Northern Albertan

    I live in Northern AB and have been on many Fracs. Im ashamed of myslef now knowing now what fracking does to the Earth and its inhabitants. Its a huge plan by the off shore elite to depopulate the world. Im with Ron Landry on this one. The Truth is ..We do not need oil or gas ..there are technologies that exist that would eliminate the need for fossil fuels. And these technologies are being actively suppressed by the Global Elite. is a grouo of scientists who have all of these advanced technologies. If we were to develope them and use them the world would change dramaticly for the good…in a short time.. We all need to realise that there is a evil force that is at War with Humanity. We all need to stand up and say NO.
    Humans are creators ..and we have power in numbers. These Criminals in the socalled govt need to go to prision and real humans need to take thier place in positions of authority. A Government that works against the people…is not a government at all.. its a Tyranny


    Maybe you should throw a big steak dinner for the frack execs and their families. Then see who shows up and eats! Of course all that freshly killed beef will be locally grown


    A good site.

    @ Kim, you are welcome to live for a year with your family on the wells site. Then judge from the results. Might make you feel more human afterwards and not only live on life-less numbers.


    I find it interesting that the people who perform the Fracs on these wells do not come up sick as well! Some of these people do this all their lives, day after day, and yet suffer nothing health wise! If you are going to point fingers at the Oil and Gas industries perhaps we should think about all those people out there that work on those wells! Until people stop using gas, natural gas, and oil, I think the pointing of fingers should stop! There are several weeds that animals can eat that cause the same problems for cattle, killing them! I am simply not convinced that because of having a well fraced on your property once or twice is exposing the animals to enough radiation etc, to kill them! More studies should be done!

      Rural Alberta

      “More studies should be done!”

      I agree, so while that’s not happening, it might be a good idea for you and your family to move into the Hawkwood’s area and experience it for yourselves.

      I can see why you’re “simply not convinced that because of having a well fraced on your property once or twice is exposing the animals to enough radiation etc, to kill them!” and I think nothing says “convincing” more than immersing yourself in the toxic industrialization of your own community. There’s even a quaint little country school you can send the kids to where the drilling and frac’ing is happening, so the kids are truly “immersed.”

      And “having a well fraced on your property once or twice” is nothing really, so far the companies have frac’d about 80 wells in the area, with plans for about 4000, so you’d be getting in at a good time and have lots to look forward to. Perhaps you could document the experience and share that information with the absent independent scientists as your adventure unfolds.

      Unfortunately, there are reports of water wells being contaminated in this area and water deliveries by the oil companies, so you may have to rely on them for your water, but as long as there’s no “pointing of fingers” and you keep your mouth shut, you should do all right.

      And just a heads-up, the companies are also flaring, dumping, spilling and spreading their toxic waste throughout the community, but thankfully, while you can’t drink or eat the oil and gas, if anyone becomes sick in your family – you’ll at least be able to drive them to their chemo treatments.

      Do let us know how it shakes out for you, in the meantime I look forward to learning more from the Hawkwoods and the many other families who are bearing the impacts.

      Just an example of what you can expect when you move into your new home and community near the Hawkwoods.

      serious joe

      Wow, are you with Dwayne? Your comments are sane. cud’s!


    Perhaps some of these ranchers should take all their dead animals and dump them on the Alberta Legislatures’ front lawn……..I’d like to see the Gas industry cover THAT story up!


    All my life we follow protocols in the work place(sawmill), we work safe so that what we does not impact or neighbor or fellow workers or environment. We wer not to impact and cause any harm, these are rules that the industry set out and also provincial and federal guidelines. WHY does the provincial and federal governments not follow these guidelines, their reserachers BULLSHIT and fudge their reports, there are always pros and cons. The courts should decide if they are truth bearing courts.

    Ron Landry

    I have read about conspiracies to lower the world’s population. When you consider how bad the oceans are, the pollution, the CO2 emissions and green house gasses, the new viruses and bacteria, the GMO’s, the radiation from nuclear everything, the Zionist control of mass media, the banking cartels stripping us of our wealth, and it goes on. I think just a little bit that these conspiracies are true and run by the Bildeberg Groups such as Stephen Harper and Joe Oliver.

    Don Messier

    And what about the cows that don’t die, but are exposed to high levels of radiation and the array of fracking chemicals !! Be assured they will enter OUR food chain !! Fracking has to be STOPED we’re poisoning ourselves thru contaminated water and soil!!

      Damien Gillis

      Very good point, Don. How about the groundwater, the pipes, the trucks, the gas – all of which will travel and spread radiation.

      We’re essentially unearthing a monster from deep underground. Once we open this Pandora’s box, where does it end?

        Rural Alberta

        If you live in an area where companies are tying in the frac’d gas, I would also recommend you check the gas coming out of your stove (if you use a gas stove).

        In my experience, the gas was not clean and green, but radioactive.

        It is simple enough to do. I purchased a fairly high-end radiation detector, spent a day taking background level readings outside, around my house, and all the rooms in the house including the basement.

        Once I had a good idea of the “normal” level of radiation in and around my house, I placed the radiation detector on my stove and turned on the gas for about 15 seconds, but did not light it.

        It was a sickening experience to watch and listen to the radiation detector gauge tic up and up and up – to 6 times the baseline level I had recorded.

        I promptly called a gas fitter, had them come and disconnect the gas line from my stove and remove the line completely. I took the stove in to be recycled. I am now looking at having the main gas line to my house removed, and at other heating alternatives – as well as packing up the family and relocating to an area that isn’t being drilled and frac’d to dust.

          serious joe

          Six times nothing is still nothing. I measure background radiation in my house, as well. I’m amused that the ceramic tile in my kitchen is a bit more than twice as hot as background. I have an antique ceramic plate that has beautiful blue in it (cobalt). It measures (on contact) five to ten times background. You have probably injured your health to a greater degree BY FRETTING OVER RADIATION than the actual radioactive material could ever have hurt you. However, it isn’t your fault. The prevailing theory is that any radiation is bad; all radiation is to be avoided… that is what is taught today. It isn’t true. Your body has mechanisms to repair DNA (and other) damage. If those mechanisms, like muscles, are left to atrophy, they won’t work well when needed. Background radiation is USEFUL to your health by keeping that mechanism functioning.

        serious joe

        Radiation cannot be “spread”. Radioactive material can be spread. Otherwise, I agree… any implement that has been coated with radioactive material can shed particles of radioactive material.

    Linda Cornell

    this is so sad,,,,work hard all his life to watch his hard die right in front of him…and they tell him we can’t do anything to stop it…wow it make u just sick…

      serious joe

      no, it doesn’t. It makes the COWS sick, apparently. I would like to know WHAT caused the loss of his cows, and I’d like to see that fixed. Without something specific, we won’t know what to fix. I’m not convinced that FRAKING did it.

      … “wach his hard die right in front of him” … gee, he didn’t mention that he had THAT problem, did he?

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