Worker believes cancer caused by fracking fluids
When Rifle resident Jose Lara, 42, began working for Rain for Rent about a half-dozen years ago, his job required climbing inside tanks to power-wash them after they’d been emptied of hydraulic fracturing fluids used in area oil and gas wells.
At times, Lara said, the stench was overpowering.
“It’s nasty inside the tanks, and sometimes I needed to run outside,” he recalled.
Lara sought fresh air to combat the dizziness he said he and other workers experienced. Now he’s undergoing chemotherapy and other treatment to fight incurable pancreatic and liver cancer that he believes are a result of working around the fracking fluids.
Lara, who is married and has four children from ages 6 to 17, also is in the preliminary investigative stages of filing a lawsuit against several companies providing local fracking services.
Through his attorney, Paul Gertz, Lara is seeking to be allowed to give a pre-lawsuit deposition to preserve his videotaped testimony. The purpose would be to enable a jury to view the testimony if a suit Gertz is preparing to file for Lara and his family goes to trial after Lara has died.
Lara was diagnosed in late December, and people with his condition typically live only six months to a year after their diagnosis, his petition states.
If a judge approves what’s called a petition to perpetuate testimony, potential targets of the product liability suit also would have the chance to cross-examine Lara.
At least two of the companies named have filed responses denying responsibility for Lara’s cancer.
Lara also is pursuing a workers’ compensation claim against Rain for Rent. He said he isn’t blaming his employer but is trying to act on behalf of his family and his fellow workers. He said he would like to see companies do fracturing “without the bad chemicals.”
He also wants companies to have to make their fracturing fluids’ contents public for the benefit of workers.
A bill proposed by U.S. Reps. Diana DeGette and Jared Polis, both Colorado Democrats, and Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., would mandate the contents’ disclosure.
The energy industry says fracking fluids consist mostly of water and sand, with only small amounts of other additives. Fracturing companies generally consider their fluids’ formulas to be proprietary information.
Gertz said not knowing what Lara was exposed to makes suing over his cancer more of a challenge.
“It’s hard for us to make a definite link because the companies have been so secretive about what’s in the fracking liquids,” he said.
Although once a light smoker, Lara quit a number of years ago, and he has no family history of pancreatic cancer. His petition says it is “well-known” that companies doing fracking use “various toxic chemicals,” and that many are thought to cause cancer.
The petition names Calfrac Well Services Corp., BJ Services Co., Halliburton Energy Services Inc., Frac Tech Services and Schlumberger Water Services USA as companies “expected to be adverse parties” in a lawsuit.
In a written response, BJ Services said it “denies that it manufactured or provided any products that may have caused pancreatic or liver cancer.” Frac Tech said it denies “any allegation that it manufactured or provided any products that caused Petitioner Lara’s claimed injuries.”
It also denied using diesel oil or toxic chemicals for the fracking operations in question. Lara’s petition states that diesel oil, which contains the carcinogen benzene, sometimes has been used in fracking fluids. Gertz said that he doesn’t know if it has been used locally, but he suspects it has been.
Frac Tech also said it didn’t rent out tanks from Rain for Rent for storing liquids and chemicals used during fracking, and BJ Services said it didn’t rent any tanks from the company during the past six years.
Frac Tech and BJ Services didn’t object to Lara’s petition but asked that they be provided medical and employment records so they could adequately prepare for a deposition.
Halliburton and Rain for Rent declined to comment, and Schlumberger and Calfrac representatives did not return calls for comment.
Lara has completed 10 chemotherapy treatments. He also went to Mexico recently to undergo other treatment there.
He said the tanks he cleaned sometimes had a greasy sludge on the bottom, and he couldn’t remove the stench of his job even after showering. He also worked in the field and remembers seeing pipes that were corroded from whatever was in the fracking fluid and watching the protective rubber gloves he wore swell from contact with the fluids.
Jose and his wife, Maria, said they never worried about the possibility of him getting cancer from his work because his employer never said any danger existed.
Gertz said he is worried about the possible dangers of putting fracking fluids in the ground and would like to see the federal government address the confidentiality surrounding the fluids’ makeup.
Said Gertz, “We think that Mr. Lara and his family and the public have a right to know what’s in those chemicals and how dangerous they really are.”