As the United States steadily increases our development of tight oil and shale gas, we face serious risks from hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” which pollutes the air and water around fracking communities. Other areas face risks from other risky, new technologies where there is unconventional drilling for natural gas and oil. Recently, CEH released an online article in the peer-reviewed journal Reviews on Environmental Health showing that substances widely used in unconventional oil and natural gas (UOG) development and operations have been linked to impaired brain function in infants, children, and young adults. The UK’s Guardian ran a feature on the report. Ellen Webb, MPH, the Health Sciences and Advocacy Manager for CEH, was the lead author of the review. She discussed her findings on TEDX and was interviewed on the national radio program “The Living Well Show.” CEH Research Director Caroline Cox also discussed the report with Ed Schultz on RT America.
In fracking, a mixture of chemicals, sand, and millions of gallons of water is pumped under high pressure into deep wells, to break up rock formations that would otherwise trap large amounts of oil and gas. Breaking up the rock releases the oil and gas so it can be extracted – but it can also allow the chemicals used to pollute drinking water sources. What’s worse, fracking companies are not required to disclose what chemicals they are using in their fracked wells – but we know that there are more than 600 chemicals they may be using, and studies say that more than 350 of these chemicals are linked to cancer, birth defects, and other serious illnesses.
Further, other chemicals involved throughout the cycle of fracking, from construction of fracking sites through transport of the extracted fuels to disposal of the waste water and more can lead to toxic health threats to the air and water for communities near fracking sites. The social disruption that often follows the introduction of fracking can also lead to health problems throughout fracking communities.
The oil and gas industry is the only industry in the U.S. that is allowed to “inject hazardous materials-unchecked” directly into or adjacent to underground drinking water supplies. Despite the risks, fracking and other oil and gas technologies have been largely exempted from federal environmental laws.