How can NGOs address health symptoms in fracked communities ?

Fracking and Health : Ask an Expert – with Dr. Beth Weinberger

TEDX conducts brief interviews with leading experts to get answers about health threats posed by unconventional oil and gas operations.
Press Play > to listen to the recording.


Fracking Musical

Brewed On Grant : Musical Shale

The Marcellus Shale industry, whose “fracking” practices have been criticized by environmentalists, have been pushing hard with PR campaigns on several fronts. They have been trying to put a positive spin on their practices while reminding everyone of all the jobs they are creating.

Fracking allowed under State Parks and Forests

Brewed On Grant : Park Frackers

The Allegheny County Council decided it would be a good idea to start fracking under Deer Lakes Park. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Governor Tom Corbett issued an executive order saying it was OK to drill under Pennsylvania forests and state parks.

Serious health hazards for infants and children living near fracking sites

Neurodevelopmental and neurological effects of chemicals associated with unconventional oil and natural gas operations and their potential effects on infants and children

Multiple pollutants found in the air and water near fracked oil and gas sites are linked to brain problems in children.

2017 Study Abstract

Heavy metals (arsenic and manganese), particulate matter (PM), benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylenes (BTEX), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) have been linked to significant neurodevelopmental health problems in infants, children and young adults.

These substances are widely used in, or become byproducts of unconventional oil and natural gas (UOG) development and operations. Every stage of the UOG lifecycle, from well construction to extraction, operations, transportation and distribution can lead to air and water contamination. Residents near UOG operations can suffer from increased exposure to elevated concentrations of air and water pollutants.

Here we focus on five air and water pollutants that have been associated with potentially permanent learning and neuropsychological deficits, neurodevelopmental disorders and neurological birth defects. Given the profound sensitivity of the developing brain and central nervous system, it is reasonable to conclude that young children who experience frequent exposure to these pollutants are at particularly high risk for chronic neurological diseases.

More research is needed to understand the extent of these concerns in the context of UOG, but since UOG development has expanded rapidly in recent years, the need for public health prevention techniques, well-designed studies and stronger state and national regulatory standards is becoming increasingly apparent.

More Information

  • Full study (free access) Neurodevelopmental and neurological effects of chemicals associated with unconventional oil and natural gas operations and their potential effects on infants and children, Reviews on Environmental Health,, 2017-10-25.
  • Fracking chemicals and kids’ brains don’t mix: Study, Environmental Health News, 2017-10-25.
  • Featured image credit WildEarth Guardians and @EnvirHealthNews.

When is it time to stop debating and accept the evidence ?

Via “An Taisce” charity, dedicated to protecting Ireland’s natural and built heritage

An appropriate cartoon for the Paris Agreement ratification and no-fracking day in IRL. Will @FineGael try to block efforts to ban fracking?

Image source @AnTaisce, 27 oct. 2016.

Toward Consistent Methodology to Quantify Populations in Proximity to Oil and Gas Development

Seventeen Million in U.S. Live Near Active Oil or Gas Wells

A number of studies indicate that there may be negative health outcomes associated with living in close proximity to oil and gas development. Degraded air quality; surface water, groundwater and soil contamination; and elevated noise and light pollution are exposure pathways that contribute to potential human health impacts.

Studies have identified multiple symptoms reported by residents living with oil and gas infrastructure in their communities, including respiratory symptoms, such as nose, eye, and throat irritation; headaches; and fatigue, among others.

One study has pointed to increased hospitalization rates for multiple medical categories, including cardiology, neurology, and oncology. Increased asthma incidence and severity has also been reported in Pennsylvania.

Preliminary epidemiological studies that use distance of oil and gas development as the exposure metric have found positive associations with adverse birth outcomes, including preterm birth, lower birth weight, and small for gestational age, as well as neural tube defects and congenital heart defects.

Studies also identified increased incidence of childhood hematologic cancer among children that live in close proximity to oil and gas development compared to those that live farther away.

While many findings in the public health literature on oil and gas development are sometimes inconsistent and studies often lack the designs to arrive at causal claims, the body of literature serves as an indication that proximity to oil and gas development is associated with adverse health risks and impacts.

Previous Population Proximity Studies

Public concern and the public health scientific literature to date has spurred interest in quantitative assessments of populations potentially at increased risk of health impacts from living in close proximity to oil and gas development. Four peer-reviewed studies were published in the last 2 y: two reporting population counts, and three reporting demographic subgroups. Three additional studies were identified in the gray literature. The earliest study we could identify was published in The Wall Street Journal. This early study has substantial methodological flaws, but is included in our review because it was the first published attempt to quantify populations near oil and gas wells.

2017 Study Abstract

Higher risk of exposure to environmental health hazards near oil and gas wells has spurred interest in quantifying populations that live in proximity to oil and gas development. The available studies on this topic lack consistent methodology and ignore aspects of oil and gas development of value to public health–relevant assessment and decision-making.

We aim to present a methodological framework for oil and gas development proximity studies grounded in an understanding of hydrocarbon geology and development techniques.

We geospatially overlay locations of active oil and gas wells in the conterminous United States and Census data to estimate the population living in proximity to hydrocarbon development at the national and state levels. We compare our methods and findings with existing proximity studies.

Nationally, we estimate that 17.6 million people live within 1,600 m (∼1 mi) of at least one active oil and/or gas well. Three of the eight studies overestimate populations at risk from actively producing oil and gas wells by including wells without evidence of production or drilling completion and/or using inappropriate population allocation methods. The remaining five studies, by omitting conventional wells in regions dominated by historical conventional development, significantly underestimate populations at risk.

The well inventory guidelines we present provide an improved methodology for hydrocarbon proximity studies by acknowledging the importance of both conventional and unconventional well counts as well as the relative exposure risks associated with different primary production categories (e.g., oil, wet gas, dry gas) and developmental stages of wells.

More Information

  • Toward Consistent Methodology to Quantify Populations in Proximity to Oil and Gas Development: A National Spatial Analysis and Review, Environmental Health Perspectives, DOI:10.1289/EHP1535, AUGUST 2017 | VOLUME 125 | ISSUE 8.
  • Seventeen Million in US Live Near Active Oil or Gas Wells, Truthout, September 06, 2017.
  • Featured image credit EHP : confirmed active well counts by U.S. county. Well data are from DrillingInfo. Administrative boundaries are from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Fracking Fluid’s Secret Recipe

Can we measure the hydraulic fracturing health effects easily without knowing exactly what chemicals are used?

Another classic Rob Rogers‘ cartoon that nails some of the absurd messaging and rationale by the fracking industry.

Sources and More Information

Good Coffee?

Fracking Chemicals Detected in Pennsylvania Drinking Water

In 2015, the New York Times reported that fracking fluid had been found in well water in Bradford County, Pennsylvania.

The industry criticized the study, saying that it provided no proof that the chemical came from a nearby well.

Sources and More Information

Toxicological profiling of real hydraulic fracturing flowback and produced water

Fracking wastewater produced developmental and aryl-hydrocarbon receptor-mediated defects in zebrafish


  • Hydraulic Fracturing flowback/produced water is a hypersaline/organic mixture.
  • A new group of aryl phosphate esters were identified in HF-FPW.
  • Acute effects of HF-FPW can attributed to both salinity and organic contaminants.
  • HF-FPW can induce EROD activity in zebrafish embryo.
  • HF-FPW displays a synergistic effect on EROD activity induction in zebrafish embryo.


Chemical and toxicological characterizations of hydraulic fracturing flowback and produced water, ScienceDirect,, 14 February 2017.

Image credit woodleywonderworks.

Hydraulic fracturing (HF) has emerged as a major method of unconventional oil and gas recovery. The toxicity of hydraulic fracturing flowback and produced water (HF-FPW) has not been previously reported and is complicated by the combined complexity of organic and inorganic constituents in HF fluids and deep formation water.

In this study, we characterized the solids, salts, and organic signatures in an HF-FPW sample from the Duvernay Formation, Alberta, Canada. Untargeted HPLC-Orbitrap revealed numerous unknown dissolved polar organics. Among the most prominent peaks, a substituted tri-phenyl phosphate was identified which is likely an oxidation product of a common polymer antioxidant. Acute toxicity of zebrafish embryo was attributable to high salinity and organic contaminants in HF-FPW with LC50 values ranging from 0.6% to 3.9%, depending on the HF-FPW fractions and embryo developmental stages. Induction of ethoxyresorufin-O-deethylase (EROD) activity was detected, due in part to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and suspended solids might have a synergistic effect on EROD induction.

This study demonstrates that toxicological profiling of real HF-FPW sample presents great challenges for assessing the potential risks and impacts posed by HF-FPW spills.

Initially potable groundwater used by several households contaminated by high-volume hydraulic fracturing

Fracking Chemicals Detected in Pennsylvania Drinking Water


New techniques of high-volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF) are now used to unlock oil and gas from rocks with very low permeability. Some members of the public protest against HVHF due to fears that associated compounds could migrate into aquifers.

Fracking Chemicals Detected in Pennsylvania Drinking Water, nytimes, MAY 4, 2015.

Image credit vshioshvili.

We report a case where natural gas and other contaminants migrated laterally through kilometers of rock at shallow to intermediate depths, impacting an aquifer used as a potable water source. The incident was attributed to Marcellus Shale gas development.

The organic contaminants—likely derived from drilling or HVHF fluids—were detected using instrumentation not available in most commercial laboratories. More such incidents must be analyzed and data released publicly so that similar problems can be avoided through use of better management practices.


Evaluating a groundwater supply contamination incident attributed to Marcellus Shale gas development, National Academy of Sciences, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1420279112, April 2, 2015.

High-volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF) has revolutionized the oil and gas industry worldwide but has been accompanied by highly controversial incidents of reported water contamination. For example, groundwater contamination by stray natural gas and spillage of brine and other gas drilling-related fluids is known to occur. However, contamination of shallow potable aquifers by HVHF at depth has never been fully documented.

We investigated a case where Marcellus Shale gas wells in Pennsylvania caused inundation of natural gas and foam in initially potable groundwater used by several households. With comprehensive 2D gas chromatography coupled to time-of-flight mass spectrometry (GCxGC-TOFMS), an unresolved complex mixture of organic compounds was identified in the aquifer. Similar signatures were also observed in flowback from Marcellus Shale gas wells. A compound identified in flowback, 2-n-Butoxyethanol, was also positively identified in one of the foaming drinking water wells at nanogram-per-liter concentrations. The most likely explanation of the incident is that stray natural gas and drilling or HF compounds were driven ∼1–3 km along shallow to intermediate depth fractures to the aquifer used as a potable water source. Part of the problem may have been wastewaters from a pit leak reported at the nearest gas well pad—the only nearby pad where wells were hydraulically fractured before the contamination incident. If samples of drilling, pit, and HVHF fluids had been available, GCxGC-TOFMS might have fingerprinted the contamination source. Such evaluations would contribute significantly to better management practices as the shale gas industry expands worldwide.

Hydraulic Fracturing