Human Health: The True Cost of Fracking

Article by Steve Dickens from River Network
Published in Volume 22, Number 3, 2012 Edition of River Voices, A River Network Publication

There are close to a half million gas wells currently operating in the U.S. that employ hydraulic fracturing (fracking) as a means to extract the gas from shale rock formations. Numerous pollutants are released into the air, water and soil as a result of fracking procedures. Releases occur from volatilization from lagoons containing flow-back (“produced”) water from wells; spills from trucks used to transport fracking water and produced water; discharges of produced water into surface waters; and contamination of groundwater aquifers that results from failed well casings and the upward migration of fracking fluid through cracks in the shale rock.

The oil and natural gas industry is the largest industrial source of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the United States. The industry also emits nearly 40% of the nation’s total methane. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide. And while the direct health effects of methane on human health are not well known, its interaction with other fracking chemicals do produce compounds known to be toxic. The chart that follows (see page 14) depicts a long list of chemicals used in fracking and their known impacts on human health.

Not many studies have yet examined the health impacts of fracking. However, the initial evidence of human exposure to these hazardous substances is beginning to mount. Elevated concentrations of pollutants have been documented around oil and natural gas facilities in Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico and Texas.

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