Is there a relationship between proximity to natural gas wells and health?

by Alex Frumkin

There has been little research about the public health impacts of living near unconventional natural gas extraction activities. Rabinowitz et al. a (2015) aimed to assess a possible relationship by generating a health symptom survey of 492 people in households with ground-fed wells in an area of active natural gas drilling. The survey looked at the household’s proximity to gas wells and then the prevalence and frequency of reported dermal, respiratory, gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, and neurological symptoms. The study found that individuals who lived within 1 km of a gas well were twice as likely to experience upper respiratory systems than individuals in households more than 1 km away. No relationship found between well proximity and any of the other possible health conditions that this survey covered. Continue reading

Try Not to Live Too Close to a Fracked Well

by Emil Morhardt

If you happen to live within 1 km of a hydraulically fractured well in Pennsylvania, and you get your water supply from a well, you stand about twice as large a chance of having skin and upper respiratory problems than if you live 2 km or farther away; you have over 3 health symptoms, on average—people further away have only 1.6. Looked at another way,13% of people living near fracking operations have upper respiratory problems, versus 3% living farther away; and 39% of the same group of people have upper respiratory problems versus 18% living further away. That is the disturbing result of an epidemiological study of almost 500 people in an area of natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale, just published in a journal of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (Rabinowitz et al. 2014). Continue reading

Methane Migration from Shale Gas Extraction Contaminates Drinking Water in Pennsylvania

by Shannon Julius

Perhaps the biggest environmental and health concern related to shale gas development is the possibility of contaminants leaking from the well shaft into nearby groundwater supplies. The first sign of such leakage would be stray methane in groundwater, as methane is a small enough molecule to move through tiny spaces and easily dissolves in water. Jackson et al. explored the possibility of stray gas contamination by testing for concentrations of methane, ethane, and propane in drinking water wells of homes in the Marcellus shale region of Pennsylvania. The researchers generally found higher amounts of dissolved gases in drinking water wells less than one kilometer from a natural gas well. Statistical analysis showed that distance from gas wells was the most significant factor for Continue reading

Impacts of Shale Gas Development on Regional Water Quality

by Shannon Julius

Drilling into shale is a difficult task, as gases are under high pressure and can easily damage the well’s integrity if drilling is done incorrectly. Such damage allows natural gases, particularly methane, to “migrate” through cement seals and into groundwater, which happens with approximately 1–3% of wells in Pennsylvania. The high toxicity of fracturing fluid raises the concern of fluid migration accompanying methane migration, and research has yet to determine the extent to which fracturing fluid can affect groundwater. However, it is highly likely that most of the unrecovered fracturing fluid is absorbed by the shale formation. The remaining fracturing fluid is recovered as Continue reading

Unexpectedly High Methane Concentrations over Shale Gas Fields

by Emil Morhardt

Methane, the main constituent of natural gas (both that from gas wells and from farm operations) is a powerful greenhouse gas, around 30 times more potent than CO2 over the hundred years after it is emitted. It is on the rise, and the culprit might be shale gas development, which utilizes hydraulic fracturing (fracking). Caulton et al. (2014) used an airplane to sample the air above a 2,800-square-kilometer area of the Marcellus shale formation gas fields in Pennsylvania. It was rich in methane, with between 2 and 15 grams heading skyward over each square kilometer every second, the upper limit of which is quite a lot higher than the 5 grams estimated from what was previously known about wellhead methane emissions; the authors suspected that the transient nature of gas leakage might be the reason, making very difficult to come up with an average over time from ground-level measurements. Since they were in an airplane, however, they could circle around areas of high concentrations and pinpoint the source. It turns out that…

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