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Hydraulic fracturing for natural gas: impact on health and environment

This brief review of the scientific literature on health and environmental impacts of fracking provides up-to-date knowledge about short- and longterm negative consequences of this technique.

Abstract:
Shale deposits exist in many parts of the world and contain relatively large amounts of natural gas and oil. Recent technological developments in the process of horizontal hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracturing or fracking) have suddenly made it economically feasible to extract natural gas from shale. While natural gas is a much cleaner burning fuel than coal, there are a number of significant threats to human health from the extraction process as currently practiced. There are immediate threats to health resulting from air pollution from volatile organic compounds, which contain carcinogens such as benzene and ethyl-benzene, and which have adverse neurologic and respiratory effects. Hydrogen sulfide, a component of natural gas, is a potent neuro- and respiratory toxin. In addition, levels of formaldehyde are elevated around fracking sites due to truck traffic and conversion of methane to formaldehyde by sunlight.
There are major concerns about water contamination because the chemicals used can get into both ground and surface water. Much of the produced water (up to 40% of what is injected) comes back out of the gas well with significant radioactivity because radium in subsurface rock is relatively water soluble. There are significant long-term threats beyond cancer, including exacerbation of climate change due to the release of methane into the atmosphere, and increased earthquake activity due to disruption of subsurface tectonic plates. While fracking for natural gas has significant economic benefits, and while natural gas is theoretically a better fossil fuel as compared to coal and oil, current fracking practices pose significant adverse health effects to workers and near-by residents. The health of the public should not be compromized simply for the economic benefits to the industry.

Bibliography:
David O. Carpenter
Hydraulic fracturing for natural gas: impact on health and environment
Reviews on Environmental Health Volume 31, Issue 1, Pages 47–51; published Online: 2016-03-04
DOI: 10.1515/reveh-2015-0055

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