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Hydraulic Fracturing

Hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," is a natural gas extraction process that is proving to have negative consequences for human health and for climate change. Fracking for natural gas extraction creates potentially harmful health effects along its entire life cycle: the hydraulic fracturing technique itself, as well as associated processes including road building, pad clearing, truck trips, drilling, cementing, flowback waters, offgassing, fugitive emissions, compressors, and pipelines. Among the most serious sources of concern are:

  • Toxic drilling fluids and fracturing fluids, injected deep underground and then withdrawn, may contaminate underground aquifers and surface waters.
  • Air emissions including volatile organic compounds (VOCs) threaten human health, especially of workers and residents of the immediate vicinity.
  • Diesel pollution and noise pollution can be constant, as truck traffic is intensive and fracking continues 24-7.
  • Stress factors affect the quality of life in communities where drilling occurs.
  • Methane leaks accelerate climate change. Methane is 72 times more potent at capturing heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide over the first 20 years after release.

Due to the severity of these concerns, PSR believes it is critical to know and examine the health impacts of hydraulic fracturing. Learn more about fracking from the resources below.

Read about the important anti-"gag rule" legislation introduced into the Maryland state legislature by PSR-Chesapeake.

Resource List:

Hydraulic Fracturing and Your Health: Water Contamination
Fracking operations consume -- and contaminate -- enormous quantities of water.

Hydraulic Fracturing and Your Health: Air Contamination
Toxic chemicals in fracking fluids, volatile organic compounds released during drilling, and methane – they can all vent into the air.

Health Risks of Hydraulic Fracturing: Harm on the Farm
Farm animals living where hydraulic fracturing takes place may become ill, produce deformed offspring, or even die.

Video: Health Impacts Reported by Families Residing near Hydro Fracking Operations
Third in PSR's series of Fracking webinars, featuring speaker Poune Saberi, MD, MPH.

Video: Potential Health Impacts of Unconventional Gas Extraction
Jerome Paulson, MD, presents an expert analysis of the process of hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") for oil and natural gas and its potential for negative impacts on human health.

Video: The Science of Shale Gas
Anthony Ingraffea, PhD, a professor of engineering at Cornell University, discusses the heavily industrialized and spatially intense nature of hydraulic fracturing and why, where and how it leaks methane -- a greenhouse gas 72 times more powerful 1than carbon dioxide.

PSR Position Statement on Hydraulic Fracturing
PSR's board of directors adopted an organizational position on fracking in March 2012 and modified that position in November 2012.

Hydraulic Fracturing: How Great Is the Risk to Health?
The June 2012 issue of PSR's online "Environmental Health Policy Institute" is dedicated to hydraulic fracturing and health. Its six articles cover a range of issues related to hydraulic fracturing and health, and is the perfect place to begin a self-education.

Health Concerns in the Era of Gas Drilling: A Basic Toolkit for Healthcare Providers
This series of free, online CME Medical Training Workshops is offered by the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project (SWPA-EHP), a nonprofit environmental health organization created to assist and support residents of Washington County, PA who believe their health has been, or could be, impacted by natural gas drilling activities. They offer a wealth of information and resources, including for health professionals.

The Health Effects of Shale Gas Development
This series of online, CME-accredited educational modules has been developed, prepared and implemented by Physicians Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy (PSE) and is jointly sponsored by the Medical Society of the State of New York (MSSNY). The first three learning modules are available, with more to come in the near future: "Introduction to the Health Dimensions of Shale Gas Development;" "Toxicology, Chemical Exposure, and Clinical Evaluation;" and "Health Oriented Planning and Decision Making." There are no fees for participating in or receiving credit for this series of online educational activities.

Fracking Revisited: Feeling the Effects
In the August 2013 issue of the Environmental Health Policy Institute, we reprise the issue of horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Articles explore a variety of new angles: exposure symptoms observed in patients in Pennsylvania; impacts of fracking in unexpected places – the Everglades, and residential Los Angeles; legislative efforts to address the exemption of fracking from seven of our nation’s bedrock environmental laws; medical right-to-know and a possible legal strategy for challenging gag rules, and new resources on this complex issue.

Public Health Dimensions of Horizontal Hydraulic Fracturing: Knowledge, Obstacles, Tactics, and Opportunities
An overview of health issues  related to fracking, written by the executive director of Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy.

Resources

  • Fracking: Harm on the Farm

    Chemical exposures that harm farm animals and wild animals raise concern about health risks for people living near fracking sites, as the animals use the same water and breathe the same air as humans. Another, indirect concern for human health also exists: in multiple known cases of chemical exposure, cows continued to produce dairy and meat for human consumption, although it remained untested for chemical contaminants. Read more »

  • Fracking and Water Contamination

    Hydraulic fracturing combines water with an array of chemicals, some of which are carcinogenic, endocrine-disruptive, or otherwise toxic. The result is the contamination of huge quantities of water, with potential immediate and long-term threats to health. Read more »

  • Fracking and Air Pollution

    A growing body of scientific evidence links the fracking boom with serious risks to air quality and health. Read more »

In the Spotlight

  • July 17, 2014
    Our Best Opportunity to Cut Climate Change
    We need you to take action now! Tell the EPA that its proposed rule to cut carbon pollution from power plants Is vitally important and on the right track – but can be strengthened.