Recently published reports, studies and articles on the environmental and health impacts of unconventional oil and gas extraction – including abstracts, synopses, results and conclusions.
1.“Compendium of Scientific , Medical and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking (Unconventional Oil and Gas Extraction)” by Concerned Health Professionals of NY July 10 2014. http://bit.ly/1mSNQqe
“Horizontal drilling combined with high-volume hydraulic fracturing and clustered multi-well pads are recently combined technologies for extracting oil and natural gas from shale bedrock. As this unconventional extraction method (collectively known as “fracking”) has pushed into more densely populated areas of the United States, and as fracking operations have increased in frequency and intensity, a significant body of evidence has emerged to demonstrate that these activities are inherently dangerous to people and their communities. Risks include adverse impacts on water, air, agriculture, public health and safety, property values, climate stability and economic vitality.
Researching these complex, large-scale industrialized activities—and the ancillary infrastructure that supports them—takes time and has been hindered by institutional secrecy. Nonetheless, research is gradually catching up to the last decade’s surge in unconventional oil and gas extraction from shale. A growing body of peer-reviewed studies, accident reports, and investigative articles is now confirming specific, quantifiable evidence of harm and has revealed fundamental problems with the drilling and fracking. Industry studies as well as independent analyses indicate inherent engineering problems including well casing and cement impairments that cannot be prevented. Earlier scientific predictions and anecdotal evidence are now bolstered by empirical data, confirming that the public health risks from unconventional gas and oil extraction are real, the range of adverse impacts significant, and the negative economic consequences considerable. Our examination of the peer-reviewed medical and public health literature uncovered no evidence that fracking can be practiced in a manner that does not threaten human health.
Despite this emerging body of knowledge, industry secrecy and government inaction continue to thwart scientific inquiry, leaving many potential problems—especially cumulative, long-term risks—unidentified, unmonitored and largely unexplored. This problem is compounded by non-disclosure agreements, sealed court records, and legal settlements that prevent families (and their doctors) from discussing injuries. As a result, no comprehensive inventory of human hazards yet exists.
At the same time, inflated estimates of shale reserves and potential profitability continue to fuel the rush to drill new wells, cut regulatory corners, and press into densely populated communities, as corporations attempt to compensate for the unexpectedly rapid depletion of their existing wells and coincident drop off in revenue. Thus do the fundamental economic uncertainties of shale gas and oil production further exacerbate the risks of fracking to public health and society. With the industry intention of drilling tens of thousands of new wells into shale every year in the United States and with more than 15 million Americans already living within a mile of a fracking well that has been drilled since 2000, the stakes could not be higher.”
About This Report
The Compendium is a fully referenced compilation of the significant body of scientific, medical and journalistic findings demonstrating risks and harms of fracking. Organized to be accessible to public officials, researchers, journalists and the public at large, the Compendium succinctly summarizes key studies and other findings relevant to the ongoing public debate about unconventional methods of oil and gas extraction. The Compendium should be used by readers to grasp the scope of the information about both public health and safety concerns and the economic realities of fracking that frame these concerns. The reader who wants to delve deeper may consult the reviews, studies, and articles referenced. (In addition, a fully searchable, near-exhaustive citation database of peer-reviewed journal articles pertaining to shale gas and oil extraction is housed at the PSE Healthy Energy Library).
2.“Impacts of Gas Drilling on Human and Animal Health” by Michelle Bamberger and Robert E Oswald. Scientific study – published 2012
Environmental concerns surrounding drilling for gas are intense due to expansion of shale gas drilling operations. Controversy surrounding the impact of drilling on air and water quality has pitted industry and lease-holders against individuals and groups concerned with environmental protection and public health. Because animals often are exposed continually to air, soil, and groundwater and have more frequent reproductive cycles, animals can be used as sentinels to monitor impacts to human health. This study involved interviews with animal owners who live near gas drilling operations. The findings illustrate which aspects of the drilling process may lead to health problems and suggest modifications that would lessen but not eliminate impacts. Complete evidence regarding health impacts of gas drilling cannot be obtained due to incomplete testing and disclosure of chemicals, and nondisclosure agreements. Without rigorous scientific studies, the gas drilling boom sweeping the world will remain an uncontrolled health experiment on an enormous scale.
Animals, especially livestock, are sensitive to the contaminants released into the environment by drilling and by its cumulative impacts. Documentation of cases in six states strongly implicates exposure to gas drilling operations in serious health effects on humans, companion animals, livestock, horses, and wildlife. Although the lack of complete testing of water, air, soil and animal tissues hampers thorough analysis of the connection between gas drilling and health, policy changes could assist in the collection of more complete data sets and also partially mitigate the risk to humans and animals. Without complete studies, given the many apparent adverse impacts on human and animal health, a ban on shale gas drilling is essential for the protection of public health. In states that nevertheless allow this process, the use of common sense measures to reduce the impact on human and animals must be required in addition to full disclosure and testing of air, water, soil, animals, and humans.
3.“The Urgent Case for a Ban on Fracking” – This is the latest report from Food and Water Watch – Again fully referenced – published in September 2014. http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/reports/the-urgent-case-for-a-ban-on-fracking/
“In recent years, the term “fracking” has come to mean far more than just the specific process of extracting oil and natural gas by injecting large volumes of various mixes of water, sand and chemicals deep underground, at extreme pressure, to create fractures in targeted rock formations. Today, the term “fracking” represents the host of problems that this dangerous practice entails. This report details evidence on the many reasons why fracking should be banned, including:
Producing massive volumes of toxic and radioactive waste. The disposal of this waste is causing earthquakes and putting drinking water resources at risk.
Pumping hazardous pollutants into the air. Fracking utilizes over 100 dangerous chemicals known to cause life-threatening illnesses, including cancer.
Destabilizing the climate. Fracking wells release large amounts of methane gas, which is known to trap 87 times more heat than carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and contributes greatly to global warming.
Disrupting local communities. Fracking presents a broad number of consequences for people living in areas where it is occurring, including damage to public roads, declines in property value, increased crime and an increased demand on emergency services.
Turning homes into explosive hazards. Contaminating water wells with methane and other flammable gases from fracking puts families’ health, safety and property at high risk.
Causing thousands of accidents, leaks and spills. More than 7,500 accidents related to fracking occurred in 2013, negatively impacting water quality in rivers, streams and shallow aquifer
4.“Fracking By The Numbers – Key impacts of dirty drilling at the National and State Level”
Fracking poses grave threats to the environment and public health. A fully referenced easy-to-read report from Environment America Research and Policy Centre – October 2013. “Wherever fracking has occurred, it has left its mark on the environment and our well-being”. http://www.environmentamerica.org/sites/environment/files/reports/EA_FrackingNumbers_scrn.pdf
5.“Air concentrations of volatile compounds near oil and gas production: a community-based exploratory study”
1 Center for Health, Science, and Public Policy, Brooklyn Law School, Brooklyn, New York, USA, 2 Global Community Monitor, Richmond, California, USA, 3 Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide, Eugene, Oregon, USA, 4 Center for Environmental Health, Oakland, California, USA, 5 Powder River Basin Resource Council, Clark, Wyoming, USA, 6 Institute for Health and the Environment, University at Albany, Rensselaer, New York, USA
Results: Levels of eight volatile chemicals exceeded federal guidelines under several operational circumstances. Benzene, formaldehyde, and hydrogen sulphide were the most common compounds to exceed acute and other health-based risk levels.
Conclusions: Air concentrations of potentially dangerous compounds and chemical mixtures are frequently present near oil and gas production sites. Community-based research can provide an important supplement to state air quality monitoring programs.
Keywords: Benzene; Community monitoring; Formaldehyde; Grab and passive samples; Hydraulic fracturing; Hydrogen sulphide; Oil and gas.
A news report summarising this study can be found at
6.“Fracking the Future – How Unconventional Gas Threatens our Water, Health and Climate”.
“Right now the dirty oil and gas industry is asking the public to commit to decades more reliance on a dwindling fossil fuel enterprise that, in turn, is virtually guaranteed to pollute our water, air and land, and further provoke a mounting global climate crisis”.
7. “Hydraulic fracturing for shale gas in the UK: Examining the evidence for potential environmental impacts”
This is the conclusion of the report carried out by the RSPB. The full report can be found at http://www.rspb.org.uk/Images/shale_gas_report_evidence_tcm9-365779.pdf
“Much of the discussion to date on European shale gas development has been driven by events occurring in the United States, especially by incidents where industry did not employ best practice.
There are a considerable number of potential risks to the natural environment associated with commercial shale exploration and production in the UK because of the disturbance to wildlife and the land take of the infrastructure itself, interactions with the water environment, and the release of greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere during the extraction process and use of the gas. These risks can partly be addressed through an improved regulatory regime, but there remains considerable uncertainty as to whether the commercial extraction of shale gas in the UK is compatible with the UK Government’s climate change objectives.
All activities associated with unconventional gas exploration and production in the UK are covered by existing EU and national environmental legislation. Our analysis suggests that the current regulatory regime is not fit for purpose and therefore unable to adequately manage serious environmental risks that may arise from individual projects and cumulative developments, such as species disturbance, water stress and inevitably the residual risk around pollution. Additionally, there is a significant risk that taxpayers and third parties could be forced to pick up liability for damage caused.
Through detailed analysis, the report identified the following three categories of key environmental risk:
(i) Risk to the water environment
(ii) Risk of ecological impacts
(iii) Risk of climate change impacts
(i) Risk to the water environment
Water management has emerged as a critical issue in the development of shale gas resources. This is due to the large volumes of water and chemicals required for the drilling and hydraulic fracturing of multiple wells, which inevitably lead to the production of significant quantities of wastewater that must be managed and disposed of safely and with due diligence. A recent AMEC report has estimated that under the high activity scenario the water use of the UK shale gas industry could amount to 9 million m3 per year, which would represent around 18% of mains water currently supplied to the energy, water and waste sectors. Additionally, under the same scenario up to 108 million m3 of wastewater would require treatment26, which would place a significant burden on the existing wastewater treatment infrastructure (AMEC, 2013).
Another issue is the historic over-allocation of abstraction licences, which could mean that significant additional demand for water resources could exacerbate pressure on rivers and wetlands from the public water supply. Particularly sensitive water bodies, and those already suffering from over abstraction, such as chalk streams could be especially at risk.
As with all drilling operations, spills, blowouts and equipment failures are issues that must be effectively managed and mitigated. The release of methane during hydraulic fracturing can result in groundwater contamination. Induced seismic events can potentially undermine the integrity of wells and their casing. The potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing, especially with regard to groundwater, are significant and potentially long lasting or even irreversible.
(ii) Risk of ecological impacts
Habitat loss, fragmentation and disturbance are likely to be the main impacts on wildlife, aside from the risks of pollution of habitats and water bodies. With each well pad occupying up to 3 hectares and with up to 120 well pads being constructed and linked by infrastructure in the UK over the next two decades, under the high activity scenario (AMEC, 2013), if well pads are sited in the wrong place and/or constructed at the wrong time of year impacts could be very damaging to important and protected species. Site selection will be a key factor in minimising impacts on species and habitats.
Our analysis, for instance, found that around 4% of areas under consultation in the 14th licensing round will coincide with land under Special Protection Area designation and over 13% will overlay Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
The drilling and hydraulic fracturing process can be a 24-hour/7-day per week operation with associated visual and noise impacts. Disturbance from drilling can be compounded by hundreds of truck movements required to transport equipment and wastes, including flowback and produced wastewaters contaminated with highly-saline mineral compounds and naturally occurring radioactive materials. Light pollution could have serious ecological consequences for a range of species, including invertebrates and bats.
(iii) Risk of climate change impacts
The exploitation of shale gas must be seen within the context of the UK’s legally binding commitments to achieve an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Not only does a “dash for gas” risk diverting funding and resources from the expansion of renewable energy technologies, but there is an ongoing debate about the relative leakage rate of methane into the atmosphere from the exploitation of shale gas in comparison to the emission rate from conventional gas. This is potentially important because a high leakage rate of methane might mean that the net greenhouse gas footprint of shale gas could be higher than that of coal, for instance”.
8. “Confirmed: California Aquifers Contaminated With Billions Of Gallons of Fracking Wastewater” DeSmogBlog, By Mike Gillispie, October 7, 2014
This is a recently published news article on illegal dumping of fracking waste water. Although not a scientific study or report, I include this as an example of the numerous articles flooding in from the States on a daily basis.
“After California state regulators shut down 11 fracking wastewater injection wells last July over concerns that the wastewater might have contaminated aquifers used for drinking water and farm irrigation, the EPA ordered a report within 60 days.
It was revealed yesterday that the California State Water Resources Board has sent a letter to the EPA confirming that at least nine of those sites were in fact dumping wastewater contaminated with fracking fluids and other pollutants into aquifers protected by state law and the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.
The letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Center for Biological Diversity, reveals that nearly 3 billion gallons of wastewater were illegally injected into central California aquifers and that half of the water samples collected at the 8 water supply wells tested near the injection sites have high levels of dangerous chemicals such as arsenic, a known carcinogen that can also weaken the human immune system, and thallium, a toxin used in rat poison.