A New Fracking Landscape

An oil derrick near a subdivision roundabout on June 7, 2017, in Dacono — North Metro Denver.  [Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post]

Report on Recent Science Shows Overwhelming Evidence of Harm

Health professional groups raise alarm that build-out of drilling and fracking operations is creating a public health crisis.


As incontrovertible evidence of harm from fracking mounts and more health professionals raise the alarm, the fracking debate is taking place within an altered landscape. Today, as a growing body of scientific evidence confirms demonstrable health risks and harms from drilling and fracking operations and their attendant infrastructure, calls from the medical community for health-protective policies are growing louder. A new report by two leading health professional organizations — Physicians for Social Responsibility and Concerned Health Professionals of New York — tracks and analyzes the rapidly emerging science that points to the increasing dangers to health, including respiratory disease, cancer risk, and low birth weight and preterm birth, both of which are leading causes of infant death.

This evidence is of grave concern to health professionals, especially given that over 17 million Americans now live within a mile of an active oil or gas well. This population includes over a million young children and a million elderly people, two groups with special vulnerabilities to air pollution and contaminated water. Other studies show harm to infants born to mothers who live near drilling and fracking operations during their pregnancies.If carried out, the Trump administration’s plans to roll back federal regulations and expand fracking on public lands will further exacerbate these harmful impacts.

The new report, the Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking, 5th Edition compiles and summarizes an avalanche of recent studies. Of more than 1,300 studies published on the effects of drilling and fracking, more than 90 percent have been published since 2013, and about a quarter were published in 2017 alone.

Kathleen Nolan, MD, MSL, of Physicians for Social Responsibility and Concerned Health Professionals of NY, said:  “Substantial scientific evidence now leaves no question that drilling and fracking cause serious harms to public health. Further studies will continue to illuminate the full extent of those ill effects and to define causal pathways in further detail, but it is abundantly clear that the practice is not safe and that no set of regulations can make it safe.”

More and more health professionals are examining the data and raising concerns, and more and more communities and officials who are looking at the evidence are acting on it. In February, a Republican-controlled committee of the Florida State Senate voted unanimously to support a ban on fracking, following widespread opposition to fracking across the state. The underlying reason: demonstrated risks of water contamination and other negative public health impacts. Earlier editions of the Compendium have been widely used by policymakers and advocates throughout the United States and the world including in successful efforts to establish bans on fracking in Vermont, New York, Maryland, communities in California, Colorado, and other states as well as France, Scotland, Wales, Netherlands, Ireland, Germany, parts of Canada.

Biologist Sandra Steingraber, PhD, of Concerned Health Professionals of NY, said:  “What impressed us, as we reviewed and compiled the data, is just how extensive the impacts from drilling and fracking processes are. Spikes in toxic air pollution accompany fracking wherever it goes. Drinking water is destroyed. Earthquakes are triggered. Abandoned wells leak. Pipelines explode. Climate-killing methane escapes from every component part. And nearby residents are suffering health problems consistent with their exposures — including newborn infants.”

With federal retrenchment on environmental and public health protections, it is imperative that more states step up and act on the scientific evidence. Numerous chapters of Physicians for Social Responsibility and other health groups are taking the Compendium to policymakers and urging prohibitions on fracking.

Lynn Ringenberg MD, President-Elect of Physicians of Social Responsibility, and member of PSR-Florida’s Board of Directors, Professor emeritus at USF Health, said:  “There is extensive proof that fracking contaminates drinking water and pollutes the air, threatening the health of communities nearby and downstream. Florida and communities across the country must heed the science and say no to fracking.”

Five of the take-aways from the analysis in the Compendium of the trends in the emerging scientific evidence on fracking:

  1. Serious harm to public health, and no regulatory framework can prevent those harms. Adverse impacts include low birth weight and preterm birth, both of which are leading causes of infant death; respiratory impacts; cancer risks, and occupational health and safety risks.
  2. Drinking water contamination from drilling, fracking, and disposal of fracking waste. Numerous pathways of contamination are now proven, and many cases of contamination across the country show that these impacts are common and inevitable.
  3. Natural gas is a grave threat to the climate, and may be worse than coal due to substantial methane leaks. Studies consistently show that methane is worse for the climate than previously understood, that drilling and fracking and associated infrastructure leak more methane than previously estimated, and that rising methane levels are now driving serious adverse climate impacts.
  4. Fracking infrastructure poses serious exposure risks to those living nearby. New evidence demonstrates that pipelines, compressor stations, underground storage, LNG facilities, and other infrastructure components are responsible for substantial public health and climate change impacts. The massive build-out of this infrastructure is rarely acknowledged, but pipeline disasters, major methane leaks, and reports of local toxic emissions and related health concerns are increasingly common.
  5. Fracking raises environmental justice issues. Emerging evidence reveals disproportionate siting of fracking and associated infrastructure in non-white and low-income communities.

Given the continuous growth in research, the Compendium is designed as a living document that is publicly available on the websites for Physicians for Social Responsibility and Concerned Health Professionals of New York.

Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking – Fifth Edition


Read the new Rolling Stone report on the Compendium’s findings

‘The Harms of Fracking’: New Report Details Increased Risks of Asthma, Birth Defects and Cancer

“Our examination …uncovered no evidence that fracking can be practiced in a manner that does not threaten human health,” states a blistering 266-page report released today by Concerned Health Professionals of New York and the Nobel Peace Prize-winning group, Physicians for Social Responsibility.

Drawing on news investigations, government assessments and more than 1,200 peer-reviewed research articles, the study finds that fracking — shooting chemical-laden fluid into deep rock layers to release oil and gas — is poisoning the air, contaminating the water and imperiling the health of Americans across the country.

“Fracking is the worst thing I’ve ever seen,” says Dr. Sandra Steingraber, one of the report’s eight co-authors, a biologist who has worked as a public health advocate on issues like breast cancer and toxic incinerators. “Those of us in the public health sector started to realize years ago that there were potential risks, then the industry rolled out faster than we could do our science.” In recent years, the practice has expanded from rural lands to backyards, farms, and within sight of schools and sources of drinking water. “Now we see those risks have turned into human harms and people are getting sick,” says Steingraber. “And we in this field have a moral imperative to raise the alarm” …

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