Fracking and Health

Hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," is a natural gas extraction process with severe negative consequences for human health and the climate. Fracking for natural gas extraction creates potentially harmful health effects during the hydraulic fracturing technique itself, and from associated processes including road building, pad clearing, truck trips, drilling, cementing, flowback waters, off-gassing, 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 * Toxic drilling fluids and fracturing fluids, injected deep underground and then withdrawn, may contaminate underground aquifers and surface waters.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 associated with boom-town growth affect the quality of life in communities where drilling occurs.

 * Methane leaks accelerate climate change. Natural gas is primarily composed of methane, and methane is 86 times more potent at capturing heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide over its first 20 years in the atmosphere.

The EPA has released standards to reduce leaks of methane and VOCs from new (to-be-built) oil and gas wells and infrastructure. PSR applauds these new rules; they are a welcome next step in addressing the grave problems associated with fracking. At the same time, they are only a first step. PSR also calls on the EPA to set standards to address the leakage happening now from existing oil and gas wells and infrastructure. Ultimately, natural gas and other fossil fuels must be left in the ground, to be replaced by cleaner renewable energy sources like solar and wind energy.

Resource List:


Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking

PSR's summary of recent research showing harms to health from fracking, aka hydraulic fracturing for natural gas and oil


PSR Comments on Hydraulic Fracturing

PSR's critiques of the EPA fracking study.

Hydraulic Fracturing: Implications for Public Health

PSR slide presentation provides a clear overview of the many health issues associated with hydraulic fracturing, from air contaminants to water contaminants to its contribution to climate change.

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.