Healthcare providers and impacted residents discuss fracking impacts in Pennsylvania and beyond
Fracking is Injustice: The High Human and Climate Toll of Fracking and LNG Expansion
New Compendium, analysis finds ‘no evidence’ fracking can be done without severe health, climate harms.
A major new report finds that recent national and global efforts to increase oil and gas production and liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports have dire impacts on public health and the climate. Authored by doctors and scientists, the report provides a critical accounting of the implications of fracking and related activities, synthesizing findings from over 2,000 scientific studies and government reports.
As pressure intensifies on the Biden administration to accelerate production and export of U.S. gas, the report finds:
the expansion of fracking is accelerating the climate crisis, and exporting natural gas as LNG compounds its climate impact,
carbon capture makes local air pollution worse – not better,
fracking, transporting, and using oil and gas causes serious health harms, and
low-income and communities of color are most exposed to the detrimental impacts of fracking.
The eighth edition of the Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking was released last week by Concerned Health Professionals of New York (a project of the Science and Environmental Health Network) and Physicians for Social Responsibility (winner of the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize). By bringing together and analyzing the evidence comprehensively, the report uniquely provides an assessment of the state of the fracking industry and its impacts. Amidst the report’s analysis are three big-picture findings that are essential for the public and policymakers to understand, including governors, state and local officials, and especially President Biden and his administration:
Globally, the expansion of fracking and LNG is accelerating the climate crisis and is directly at odds with climate goals, including the Paris Agreement. North American fracking operations for both oil and gas are driving the current surge in global levels of methane, a greenhouse gas 86 times more potent at trapping heat than carbon dioxide over a twenty-year period and which has contributed 40 percent of all global warming to date.
– LNG is even worse for the climate. Liquefying natural gas via superchilling to allow its overseas transport requires immense energy and evaporative cooling technology, both of which add further to the greenhouse gas emissions of natural gas obtained via fracking.
– Carbon capture and storage (CCS) fails to mitigate the dangers of fracking. CCS does not in fact capture methane emissions but instead makes local air pollution from fracking infrastructure worse. It is mostly used as a technique to extract more oil from depleted wells.
Strong evidence from hundreds of studies demonstrates that drilling, fracking, storing, transporting, and disposing of oil and gas cause serious harm to human health, including respiratory illnesses, cardiovascular disease, and impairments to infant and maternal health. Toxic air pollution and water contamination accompany fracking and associated activities everywhere, imperiling public health.
Fracking is an injustice. Toxic air pollution, water contamination, and other impacts disproportionately affect communities of color and low-income communities. Across the United States, the environmental justice effects of fracking are apparent and, in many cases, getting worse.
Thoughts from PSR PA Supporters
Peggy Slota, DNP, RN, of Physicians for Social Responsibility Pennsylvania and Concerned Health Professionals of PA, said, "Fracking operations are an environmental injustice issue. Fracking wells in the Marcellus Shale region of Pennsylvania are disproportionately located in lower income rural communities and fracking wastewater storage is more likely to be located in poor communities and neighborhoods of color as well. With wastewater spills, blowouts, and well failures, potential contamination of groundwater supply exists. Air and noise pollution have significant impact. We know that fracking poses risk to public health, impacting communities in many ways. Those with the fewest resources and support bear the brunt of the pollution and associated health impact."
Walter Tsou, MPH, MD, of Physicians for Social Responsibility Pennsylvania and Concerned Health Professionals of Pennsylvania, Adjunct Professor, Family Medicine and Community Health, University of Pennsylvania, said, "The Eighth Compendium clearly shows worsening health for residents near fracking operations. It is not the solution for the world’s energy needs. There are well established alternative healthy renewable energy solutions which we have delayed for too long."
Barbara W. Brandom, MD, resident of Pittsburgh, PA and member of Concerned Health Professionals of Pennsylvania and Physicians for Social Responsibility Pennsylvania, said, "As reported by Mayfield et al, in 2019 Nature Sustainability, the adverse effects of fracking on our climate will persist for generations beyond the end of the fracking boom they studied. Premature mortality following air pollution from fracking is largely downwind, in urban areas. We should take responsibility for these serious adverse outcomes from fracking and stop drilling new wells now!"
Sandra Steingraber, PhD, co-founder of Concerned Health Professionals of New York and an author of the Compendium, said, “The scientific evidence reveals conclusively that fracking causes widespread and severe harm to people and the climate. For over ten years, individual studies have demonstrated impacts in multiple areas, including toxic air pollution, water contamination, radioactive releases, earthquakes, methane emissions, and much more. The Compendium takes stock of all the science together, which shows that continuing and expanding fracking brings with it a grave cost.”
Barbara Gottlieb, Environment & Health Program Director of Physicians for Social Responsibility, said, “People, nurses, and doctors across the United States have been pointing to harms from drilling and fracking for well over a decade. Now there is clear and overwhelming scientific evidence showing that fracking makes people sick, degrades the environment, and imperils the climate. From a public health perspective and a climate perspective, stopping fracking is imperative.”
Kathleen Nolan, MD, MSL, of Physicians for Social Responsibility and Concerned Health Professionals of NY, said, “States and countries that have banned fracking are leading the way to a stable and healthy climate future, preventing poisonous fracking chemicals from causing birth defects, cancer, heart disease, asthma and pneumonia, diseases of other organs and tissues, and early death. Banning fracking also prevents induced earthquakes and greatly reduces emissions of methane, carbon dioxide, toxic gases, and particulate matter into our atmosphere. We know what must be done: now we must do it – and do it quickly.”
Sharon Montes, MD, of Physicians for Social Responsibility - Colorado, from Loveland CO, said, “We all too often see people living near fracking operations getting sick. In the past, we didn’t know why. Today there is strong, peer-reviewed evidence linking proximity to fracking to a host of serious health effects. In many cases, the harms of fracking are borne disproportionately by minority and low-income communities, underscoring that fracking is a health equity issue and an injustice.”
The Compendium includes a two-page "Summary of Findings," a detailed analysis of the current political, cultural, and economic context of fracking, 16 emerging trends from the science, case studies of drilling and fracking in California and Florida, and detailed compilation of studies and findings by topic.
From the Summary of Findings: “In sum, the vast body of scientific studies now published on hydraulic fracturing in the peer-reviewed scientific literature confirms that the climate and public health risks from fracking are real and the range of environmental harms wide. Our examination uncovered no evidence that fracking can be practiced in a manner that does not threaten human health directly or without imperiling climate stability upon which human health depends.”