Skip to main content

Fracking in Wyoming
Fracking in Wyoming. Four fracking pads for every square kilometer.
One of the key problems with hydraulic fracturing—"fracking"—aimed at freeing natural gas and oil from tight shale formations is how little we know for certain about the environmental and health effects. Industry and its sycophants would have us believe that the risks are few if any.

But the evidence is growing that this is far from the case. A new study from the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project (SPEHP) published in Reviews on Environmental Health and an analysis by the Center for Sustainable Development (CSD) at University of Texas published in the Virginia Environmental Law Journal point out that not only do we not know enough about this process that is being touted as a welcome American renaissance in fossil fuel energy production, but we don't have the proper tools to measure or regulate it.

Here's Rachael Rawlins at the CSD:

Under both the state and federal programs, the regulation of hazardous air emissions from gas operations is based largely on questions of cost and available technology. There is no comprehensive cumulative risk assessment to consider the potential impact to public health in urban areas. Drilling operations are being conducted in residential areas. Residents living in close proximity to gas operations on the Barnett Shale have voiced serious concerns for their health, which have yet to be comprehensively evaluated. Given the complexity of the science, and the dearth of clear, transparent, and enforceable standards, inadequate studies and limited statistical analysis have been allowed to provide potentially false assurances. The politically expedient bottom line dominates with little attention paid to the quality of the science or the adequacy of the standards.
Rawlins and former University of Montana professor Maria Morandi took a second look at a state of Texas analysis of cancer-causing emissions around the city Flower Mound, where shale gas development is underway. The state study couldn’t confirm with 99 percent certainty that childhood leukemia rates were higher in the area. It did confirm with 99 percent certainty that breast cancer rates were higher there. But it concluded that toxic emissions had nothing to do with the increase. The Rawlins-Morandi reanalysis, however, found with 95 percent certainty that childhood leukemia rates in Flower Mound are not a random occurrence.

Here's David Brown, lead author of the SPEHP study, writing in the abstract of "Understanding exposure from natural gas drilling puts current air standards to the test":

Currently, human health risks near [unconventional natural gas development] sites are derived from average population risks without adequate attention to the processes of toxicity to the body. The objective of this paper is to illustrate that current methods of collecting emissions data, as well as the analyses of these data, are not sufficient for accurately assessing risks to individuals or protecting the health of those near UNGD sites.
While the industrial propagandists and their marionettes in Congress and state legislatures like to downplay any possible problems arising from the drive to spread fracking far and wide, those problems are profoundly troubling.

More on this subject below the fold.

It wasn't so very long ago that the idea fracking and its associated disposal wells could cause earthquakes was sneered at as extremist nonsense. Not so crazy after all, we've learned.

Bobby Magill at Climate Central writes:

[T]he gap in scientists' understanding of what shale oil and gas development means for the environment and human health is significant, said Susan Brantley, a Pennsylvania State University biogeochemist studying the impacts of shale gas development in Pennsylvania. Brantley, unaffiliated with the UT-Austin study, is among the scientists who have spoken out about the fracking data gap.

"A few health studies have been initiated, but data are few and far between that allow scientists to interpret potential impacts," Brantley said via email. "In addition, the lack of federal oversight on a lot of activity which is controlled by the states makes for difficulties for scientists to evaluate or even get hold of needed data. In Pennsylvania, it is even difficult to determine exactly where spills have occurred, let alone the volume of the spill, the timing or the chemicals that were spilled."

The situation prompted the Inspector General's Office of the Environmental Protection Agency to state in a report last year:  
Recent and projected growth in the oil and gas production sector has underscored the need for EPA to gain a better understanding of emissions and potential risks from this industry sector. Harmful pollutants emitted from this industry include air toxics such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene; criteria pollutants and ozone precursors such as NOx and VOCs; and greenhouse gases such as methane. These pollutants can result in serious health impacts such as cancer, respiratory disease, aggravation of respiratory illnesses, and premature death. However, EPA has limited directly-measured air emissions data on criteria and toxic air pollutants for several important oil and gas production processes. [These] limited data, coupled with poor quality and insufficient emission factors and incomplete NEI data, hamper EPA’s ability to assess air quality impacts from selected oil and gas production activities.
Rawlins calls for adequate funding of regulators so they can track toxic emissions from fracking. “It’s not just Texas," she says. "It’s at the national level as well.”

Indeed it is. But given the anti-regulatory attitude in many states as well as in Congress, and given the immense political clout of the petrochemical industry, getting adequate funding and improving regulations to protect health is, to say the least, a difficult proposition.

To say nothing of the impact of the burgeoning fracking process on global warming—what with the high potential for methane emissions associated with prying hydrocarbons from the rock. Fracking seems like a prime candidate for generating, 10 or 20 years down the road, one of those scandalous reports of devastating effects nobody could have predicted.

Originally posted to Meteor Blades on Mon Apr 07, 2014 at 10:57 AM PDT.

Also republished by Gulf Watchers Group, Climate Change SOS, and Daily Kos.

EMAIL TO A FRIEND X
Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags

?

More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

Bob Johnson, Alumbrados, Angie in WA State, northsylvania, Liberal Thinking, TrueBlueMajority, Powered Grace, mimi, Bob Love, Shockwave, cotterperson, eeff, dsb, willyr, frisco, shpilk, hubcap, Doctor Who, Agathena, CoolOnion, CalNM, shanikka, oceanview, thea lake, Cedwyn, wader, k9disc, kharma, MrSandman, emmasnacker, TXsharon, cosette, Steven Payne, zerelda, side pocket, Kitsap River, Steven D, Sybil Liberty, llellet, environmentalist, Gowrie Gal, sb, Brecht, davidincleveland, Bluesee, sandblaster, marina, jrooth, freakofsociety, chimene, Simplify, basquebob, YucatanMan, Laurence Lewis, cfk, where4art, ladybug53, Sandino, wbr, palachia, Ginny in CO, snoopydawg, bunsk, Cory Bantic, peacestpete, Alan Arizona, Born in NOLA, Patriot Daily News Clearinghouse, edwardssl, bastrop, koNko, KenBee, blueoasis, DarkestHour, gpoutney, Rosaura, boatsie, MadMs, Statusquomustgo, bstotts, CharlieHipHop, tegrat, ammasdarling, FoundingFatherDAR, BeninSC, Cronesense, ColoTim, Mary Mike, terabytes, newpioneer, mudslide, SeaTurtle, jnhobbs, Got a Grip, Assaf, Empower Ink, VA Breeze, JeffW, Marko the Werelynx, Sixty Something, Involuntary Exile, Fiona West, elwior, jamess, monkeybrainpolitics, TexanJane, 207wickedgood, maggiejean, Willinois, divineorder, nchristine, CanyonWren, WakeUpNeo, asym, Septima, moviemeister76, clifmichael, citisven, Just Bob, rb137, flitedocnm, LaughingPlanet, politik, The Free Agent, kjoftherock, fleisch, Proud Mom and Grandma, Polly Syllabic, renzo capetti, gulfgal98, samanthab, Puddytat, cai, Yasuragi, Betty Pinson, ericlewis0, slice, no way lack of brain, annieli, pajoly, AdamR510, Mr MadAsHell, FarWestGirl, Teiresias70, mrsgoo, Santa Susanna Kid, Caddis Fly, Democrats Ramshield, ratcityreprobate, SoCalSal, jadt65, Regina in a Sears Kit House, Auriandra, deltadoc, i saw an old tree today, cwsmoke, greenbastard, Siri, molecularlevel, IndieGuy, Eric Nelson, David54, Joieau, LittleSilver, belinda ridgewood, Syoho, Edward Adams, Canines and Crocodiles, aznavy, Brown Thrasher, ItsaMathJoke, marty marty, Glen The Plumber, ZatCSU, John Crapper, weck, PHScott, HedwigKos, RichHubie, GwenM, ggfkate, howabout, GreenMother, Another Grizzle, Portia Elm, oslyn7, Liberty Equality Fraternity and Trees, jbsoul, occupystephanie, lehman scott, trkingmomoe, ginimck, stitchingasfastasIcan, Cadillac64, kfunk937, SGA, BMScott

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site