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Amy Mall’s Blog

The latest science on the health impacts of fracking

Amy Mall

Posted April 30, 2012

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  • Today and tomorrow there is an important workshop in Washington, D.C. on the health impacts of natural gas extraction. The workshop is organized by the Institute of Medicine, an independent non-profit organization that is part of the National Academy of Sciences, and anyone can watch the live webcast. All the power point presentations are posted on the IOM website.
  • A new story from Pennsylvania public media finds that a toxicology pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­sity of Pitts­burgh is seeing a significant jump in phone calls from physi­cians about strange symptoms in their patients living near natural gas production sites, but says that it’s dif­fi­cult to understand what is going on because they don't know what chemicals are in the environment. The reporter felt dizzy and nauseated in a local home.
  • The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), part of the CDC, is conducting field work to assess health risks to oil and gas workers. Workers with information to share can contact NIOSH directly. A power point presentation on this important project is posted on the IOM website.
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BSMay 1 2012 10:01 AM

Will you be reporting about the fact that the EPA has, so far, found no groundwater contaminated by fracking in spite of a recent spate of testing at sites suspected of contamination?

This is good news, right? Natural gas being a low-carbon fuel and all.

Amy MallMay 1 2012 10:41 AM

Dear BS: Thank you for writing. The EPA is in the middle of a substantial scientific investigation and has not released any conclusions yet. Regarding the EPA's investigation into the ground water contamination in Pavillion, Wyoming, a draft report has been released which found a link between fracking and the contamination. You can read more about it here:

BSMay 1 2012 12:46 PM

That report has been widely criticized for not using appropriate methodology. It's under review and is going to be re-done. We'll have to wait and see how that turns out.

All other testing I'm aware of has conclusively shown no contamination from the fracking process.

Amy MallMay 1 2012 12:50 PM

I am not aware of any scientific studies ruling out fracking as a cause of groundwater contamination in any particular incidents where it is a suspect.

Readers can see the latest news regarding the EPA's investigation into Pavillion ground water contamination here:

BSMay 1 2012 12:53 PM

Also, please tell the whole story. The fracking that was done in Pavillion, WY is not the same as the fracking that is widely used elsewhere.

It was also done much closer to the groundwater supplies.

The contamination is unfortunate whether caused by fracking or not. However, the results of the investigation for Pavillion will really have no link at all to the safety (or lack thereof) for fracking in other parts of the country.

Amy MallMay 1 2012 12:59 PM

I agree that different locations are unique, which is why we need a lot more scientific research to fully understand the risks and how they can best be avoided or mitigated.

BSMay 1 2012 02:26 PM

The most high profile example is the EPA's attempt to make an example out of Range Resources in Texas. They accused RR of polluting the water with natural gas, only to find out that the pollution was occuring naturally. (In other words, natural gas production will reduce the amount of pollution just as production in the Gulf of Mexico reduces the amount of oil/gas that seeps naturally into the water).

The EPA has also tested wells in Pennsylvania and has determined the water is fine. And again in this case, there is no clear link to fracking, since the natural gas is often present naturally.

I'm certainly not opposed to research and common sense regulations to ensure safe pracitces. Safety of people and the environment should always be the top priority.

What I do object to is environmental groups that describe the process as "dangerous" and attempt to turn public opinion against it.

And besides, safe fracking is something environmental groups should support, since it creates a better source of low carbon fuel that will help reduce CO2 emissions and help "bridge" the gap between fossil fuels and affordable/reliable alternative energy.

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