The 10 Plagues of Fracking

The 10 Plagues of Fracking is an introduction to this new and comprehensive report; an exhaustive exploration of nearly all the peer reviewed studies, investigative articles and government studies- Concerned Health Professionals of New York & Physicians for Social Responsibility. (2018, March). Compendium of scientific, medical, and media findings demonstrating risks and harms of fracking (unconventional gas and oil extraction) (5th ed.).

1. Drinking water contamination. Cases of drinking water sources contaminated by drilling and fracking activities, or by associated waste disposal, are now proven. EPA’s assessment of fracking’s impacts on drinking water resources confirmed specific instances of water contamination caused by drilling and fracking related activities and identified the various pathways by which this contamination has occurred: spills; discharge of fracking waste into rivers and streams; and underground migration of chemicals, including gas, into drinking water wells. P18

2. Air pollution plus climate threats– Researchers have documented dozens of air pollutants from drilling and fracking operations that pose serious health hazards. Areas with substantial drilling and fracking build-out show high levels of ground-level ozone (smog), striking declines in air quality, and, in several cases, increased rates of health problems with known links to air pollution. P31
Natural gas is not a climate-friendly fuel. Methane, which leaks from all parts of the natural gas extraction and distribution system, is a powerful greenhouse gas that traps 86 times more heat than carbon dioxide over a 20-year time frame. All together, these studies disprove the claim that natural gas is a transitional “bridge” fuel that can lower greenhouse gas emissions while renewable energy solutions are developed. p171

3. Radioactive releases High levels of radiation documented in fracking wastewater from many shale formations raise special concerns in terms of impacts to groundwater and surface water. Measurements of radium in fracking wastewater in New York and Pennsylvania, from the particularly radioactive Marcellus Shale, have been as high as 3,600 times the regulatory limit for drinking water, as established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). p93

4. Earthquakes are a proven consequence of drilling and fracking-related activities in many locations. A growing body of evidence from Ohio, Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Colorado links fracking wastewater injection (disposal) wells to earthquakes of magnitudes as high as 5.8, in addition to swarms of minor earthquakes. Both the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and state geological agencies such as the Oklahoma Geological Survey now acknowledge that earthquakes can be caused by wastewater injection. p131

5. Flood risks Fracking exacerbates flood risks in two ways. First, massive land clearing and forest fragmentation that necessarily accompany well site preparation increase erosion, run-off, and risks for catastrophic flooding. Second, the vulnerability of fracking sites to flooding increases the known dangers of unconventional gas extraction, heightening the risks of contamination of soils and water supplies, the overflow or breaching of containment ponds, and the escape of chemicals and hazardous materials. During Hurricane Harvey flooding in Texas in 2017, Eagle Ford operators reported 31 spills at oil and gas wells, storage tanks, and pipelines. p160

6. Infrastructure damages The infrastructure for drilling and fracking operations is complex, widespread, and poses its own risks to public health and the climate. Beginning where silica sand is mined and processed and ending where gas is burned or liquefied for export, infrastructure includes pipelines, compressor stations, dehydrators, processing plants, rail tankers, flare stacks, and storage deports through which oil or gas is moved, filtered, pressurized, warehoused, refined, and vented. It also includes injection wells and recycling facilities that dispose and treat the prodigious amounts of liquid waste that fracking generates. Air pollution is produced at every stage of the process. p193

7. Abandonment [Abandoned pipeways] are pathways for gas and fluid migration. An estimated 2.6 million oil and gas wells across the United States are no longer in production. The location and status of the vast majority are not recorded in state databases, and most remain unplugged. Whether plugged or unplugged, abandoned wells are a significant source of methane leakage into the atmosphere and, based on findings from New York and Pennsylvania, may exceed cumulative total leakage from oil and gas wells currently in production. No state or federal agency routinely monitors methane leakage from abandoned wells. Abandoned wells also serve as underground pathways for fluid migration, heightening risks of groundwater contamination. P151

8. Public health problems associated with drilling and fracking include poor birth outcomes, reproductive and respiratory impacts, cancer risks, and occupational health and safety problems. Studies of mothers living near oil and gas extraction operations consistently find impairments to infant health, including elevated risks for low birth weight and preterm birth. Studies of mothers living near oil and gas extraction operations consistently find impairments to infant health, including elevated risks for low birth weight and preterm birth. A 2017 study that examined birth certificates for all 1.1 million infants born in Pennsylvania found poorer indicators of infant health and significantly lower birth weights among babies born to mothers living near fracking sites. P19, p114

9. Inherent engineering problems that worsen with time Studies show that many oil and gas wells leak, allowing for the migration of natural gas and potentially other substances into groundwater and/or the atmosphere. According to Schlumberger, one of the world’s largest companies specializing in fracking, about five percent of wells leak immediately, 50 percent leak after 15 years, and 60 percent leak after 30 years. Recent research suggests that the act of fracking itself creates pathways for leaks. The problem of leaking wells, identified by industry, has no known solution. P87

10. The economic instabilities of fracking further exacerbate public health risks. Challenges to the industry’s claim that fracking is good business are increasingly apparent. Inaccurate jobs claims, increased crime rates, threats to property values and mortgages, and local government burden. Experiences in various states and accompanying studies have shown that the oil and gas industry’s promises of job creation from drilling for natural gas have been greatly exaggerated. Many of the jobs are short-lived, have gone to out-of-area workers, and, increasingly, are lost to automation. With the arrival of drilling and fracking operations, communities have experienced steep increases in rates of crime, including sex trafficking, rape, assault, drunk driving, drug abuse, and violent victimization—all of which carry public health consequences, especially for women. Social costs include road damage, failed local businesses, and strains on law enforcement and municipal services. School districts report increased stress. Economic analyses have found that drilling and fracking threaten property values and can diminish tax revenues for local governments. Additionally, drilling and fracking pose an inherent conflict with mortgages and property insurance due to the hazardous materials used and the associated risks. P26

The report closes “with this observation by Maryland physician Judy Stone, MD, whose recent essay in Forbes speaks for all who have contributed to this Compendium: ‘Fracking profits go to private industry but the public—families and communities—bear the costs of the many health complications from the drilling. There is growing evidence of a variety of health problems being associated with fracking. Common sense dictates that drinking and breathing cancer-causing agents will take their toll. The correlation is too strong to ignore, especially when we have other, cleaner energy options. For our safety and that of future generations, we should not allow the new administration to sell off public lands, nor allow drilling on our land, and should ban fracking completely.’” P1124

Prepared by Maggid David Arfa, Nisan 5778;;

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