Potential Public Health Hazards, Exposures and Health Effects from Unconventional Natural Gas Development
Potential Public Health Hazards, Exposures and Health Effects from Unconventional Natural Gas Development, authored by John L. Adgate,*,† Bernard D. Goldstein,‡ and Lisa M. McKenzie†, provides a detailed review of the range of potential risks to public health and evaluates the state of the evidence. Up to date, extensive overview.
ABSTRACT: The rapid increase in unconventional natural gas (UNG) development in the United States during the past decade has brought wells and related infrastructure closer to population centers. This review evaluates risks to public health from chemical and nonchemical stressors associated with UNG, describes likely exposure pathways and potential health effects, and identifies major uncertainties to address with future research.
Residents living on the frontlines of fracking recount their stories of illness, water contamination and damage to their livelihoods due to dirty drilling operations in a new booklet, Shalefield Stories.
“Behind the alarming numbers that outline fracking’s environmental impacts, there are real people whose lives have been gravely impacted by these polluting practices,” said John Rumpler, senior attorney for Environment America Research & Policy Center. “These are their stories, and we would be wise to heed their words of warning on fracking.”
“This is what happens when you invite fracking into your community,” said Marilyn Hunt, who suffered air and water pollution and illness in the wake of nearby fracking operations. “Today, we are not alone in saying this dirty drilling has to stop.”
The people within the pages of Shalefield Stories are only a few of the many individuals and families directly impacted by fracking operations. In some cases, residents affected by fracking are no longer able to talk about their experiences because of gag orders contained in their legal settlements with the drilling operator. One tally called List of the Harmed shows more than 4,800 individuals adversely affected by oil and gas incidents.
As fracking threatens to expand drilling in California, a coalition of environmental justice and community health groups sent a letter yesterday challenging the legality of the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Board’s plan to keep letting oil companies dump toxic drilling-mud waste throughout the valley with minimal safeguards.
Citing state environmental laws, the letter urges the water board not to move forward next month with a proposal to exempt drilling mud waste discharge from regulations. Drilling muds—used to facilitate drilling of oil and gas wells—contain scores of chemicals that can pose severe risks to human health.
“The water board will endanger the health of every person in the Central Valley if it gives these toxic drilling muds a free pass,” said Hollin Kretzmann, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “As fracking and acidization open new areas to oil drilling, the board has a duty to the people to protect our water and public health—not make it easier for oil companies to dump their dangerous waste without safeguards.”
A recently published study by researchers at the University of Texas at Arlington found elevated levels of arsenic and other heavy metals in groundwater near natural gas fracking sites in Texas’ Barnett Shale.
While the findings are far from conclusive, the study provides further evidence tying fracking to arsenic contamination. An internal Environmental Protection Agency PowerPoint presentation recently obtained by the Los Angeles Times warned that wells near Dimock, Pa., showed elevated levels of arsenic in the groundwater. The EPA also found arsenic in groundwater near fracking sites in Pavillion, Wyo., in 2009 — a study the agency later abandoned.
ProPublica talked with Brian Fontenot, the paper’s lead author, about how his team carried out the study and why it matters.
How is fracking affecting farming and the food supply. Elizabeth Royte’s in-depth article, Fracking Our Food Supply is excerpted here.
“Schilke’s troubles began in the summer of 2010, when a crew working at this site continued to force drilling fluid down a well that had sprung a leak. Soon, Schilke’s cattle were limping, with swollen legs and infections. Cows quit producing milk for their calves; they lost from sixty to eighty pounds in a week; and their tails mysteriously dropped off.”
… “ ‘There are a variety of organic compounds, metals and radioactive material that are of human health concern when livestock meat or milk is ingested,’ says Motoko Mukai, a veterinary toxicologist at Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine. These ‘compounds accumulate in the fat and are excreted into milk. Some compounds are persistent and do not get metabolized easily.’
Among the case studies uncovered were seventeen cows that died of suspected respiratory failure after exposure to spilled frack fluid in Louisiana, and around seventy cows in Pennsylvania that died after 140 animals were reportedly exposed to frack wastewater – of the surviving cows, less than a dozen produced calves, and only three survived. Another Pennsylvania herd recorded a 50% stillbirth rate after cows had grazed in fields contaminated by fracking chemicals spilling from a waste pit; the following year saw an abnormally skewed sex ratio, with ten female and two male calf births, as opposed to the typical 50:50 ratio.
Oswald told The Ecologist that if fracking goes ahead in the UK, ‘farmers living in intensively drilled areas should be very concerned about potential exposures of their crops and herds to shale gas contaminants in the water, air and soil.’
Alberta farmers who live near fracking installations lose the peace, quiet and beauty of their countryside. There is more noise, dust, light pollution, air pollution, traffic on and damage to country roads, damage to fields, loss of productive acres, interference with wildlife habitat, loss of recreation opportunities, potential water shortages, chemical spills on farmland and into surface waters, and reduction in property values. It is more time-consuming and costly to work land that is criss-crossed by fracking infrastructure. Emissions from wells and equipment may be hazardous to the health of people and animals. There is ever-present worry about the danger of irreversible contamination of groundwater and the resulting loss of wells for watering livestock, irrigating crops and domestic consumption.
Perhaps even more offensive than the tangible burdens that fracking imposes on farmers, are the attempts to silence and intimidate concerned rural citizens. The ERCB has a history of limiting access to its hearings by defining “affected party” very narrowly, thus denying voice to many who have legitimate concerns.
The NFU submission to the ERCB is framed by our call that its new regulatory approach be guided by the Precautionary Principle, “Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation,” as Canada agreed to in the 1992 Rio Declaration.
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.
“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.”
The Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project was created in response to individuals’ and communities’ need for access to accurate, timely and trusted public health information and health services associated with natural gas extraction.
In Pensylvania, where new laws gag physicians from sharing information about fracking chemicals with their patients, the need for trusted health information is crucial.
SWPA-EHP provides an onsite nurse practitioner and also serves as a resource center for information on the potential routes of exposure from hazardous substances, as well as strategies for limiting the risk of health effects.
According to a Pro Publica investigation, in the three-year period examined, operators pumped oil and gas drilling waste into Class 2 injection wells at pressure levels they knew could fracture rock and lead to leaks more than 1,000 times. In at least 140 cases, companies injected waste illegally or without a permit.
According to ProPublica, “Injection wells have proliferated over the last 60 years, in large part because they are the cheapest, most expedient way to manage hundreds of billions of gallons of industrial waste generated in the U.S. each year. Yet the dangers of injection are well known: In accidents dating back to the 1960s, toxic materials have bubbled up to the surface or escaped, contaminating aquifers that store supplies of drinking water.”