Energy use and production can have a significant impact on human health. From the local impacts from mining and drilling for fossil fuels to the climate impacts from burning fossil fuels, there can be negative impacts to health and the environmental all across the fossil fuel lifecycle. In the United States, a type of drilling for natural gas, hydraulic fracturing or fracking, has created a natural gas boom in many states. Below you will find basic information on what fracking is, why healthcare providers need to be knowledgeable about this issue, and public health impacts.
What is fracking?
Oil and gas companies use High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing, or “fracking”, to release natural gas and oil trapped between layers of dense shale rock found deep below the earth’s surface. Prior to fracking, gas companies drill vertically for thousands of feet. Drilling then turns horizontally, creating a fracturing path extending up to 5,000 feet underground. When the well is completed, millions of gallons of water, mixed with sand, salts and up to 300 tons of chemicals are pumped into the well at high pressure to break up the shale, releasing the gas and oil. The “flowback” water returning to the surface contains fracking chemicals, highly concentrated salts, oil, grease, heavy metals and naturally occurring radioactive material. Normal water treatment facilities are unable to filter out hazardous chemicals and radiation in flowback water.
Graphic from Propublica/Creative Commons