A top scientist at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says studies are needed to assess the public health impacts of hydraulic fracturing (fracking). According to the Associated Press, Christopher Portier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health and Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, also suggested conducting pre- and post-testing of private drinking water wells near drilling sites.
“We do not have enough information to say with certainty whether shale gas drilling poses a threat to public health,” Portier wrote to the Associated Press in an email. “More research is needed for us to understand public health impacts from natural gas drilling and new gas drilling technologies.”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is already investigating fracking’s impact on air and water. But according to the Associated Press, Portier said further study is also needed of “livestock on farmed lands consuming potentially impacted surface waters; and recreational fish from potentially impacted surface waters.”
In his email, Portier pointed out that there are no accepted medical standards for the symptoms that may come from exposure to gas drilling activities. As such, there is no way to determine if drilling or other environmental or physical factors are to blame when someone living near a fracking site becomes ill.
“This poses an extremely complex problem for epidemiology researchers, given the range of possible environmental exposures that are currently not well defined,” he said.
In hydraulic fracturing, fracking fluids are injected into the ground at high pressure to shake loose gas and oil deposits. Because of a loophole in the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, energy companies are not required to disclose the chemicals used in the fluids. Studies have shown that fracking fluids often contain some hazardous chemicals, including the carcinogen, benzene, and diesel. Opponents of fracking are concerned that this type of natural gas drilling could lead to pollution of vital drinking water sources.
Fracking has been suspected of contaminating water sources in some communities. Last month, the EPA said for the first time that it had found chemicals consistent with those used in fracking in groundwater near wells in Pavillion, Wyoming. Back in September 2010, environmental regulators in Pennsylvania warned residents near Scranton not to drink well water after methane was detected in the Susquehanna River and in wells near drilling sites, according to a Bloomberg News report.
Water and air pollution are not the only concerns surrounding fracking. An increase in earthquake activity has also been reported in some areas where fracking activities are occurring. In fact, just this past weekend, an underground injection well for disposing of fracking wastewater was shut down in Youngstown, Ohio, following a 4.0 magnitude earthquake on New Years Eve. According to a report from The New York Times, the earthquake was the 11th since mid-March to occur near the injection well.
Last year, a similar occurrence in Arkansas prompted the closure of several underground fracking waste disposal sites. In 2009, a fracking wastewater injection well was also named a possible suspect in a series of earthquakes that plagued North Texas, in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, prompting Chesapeake to close two nearby disposal wells as a precautionary measure. A possible link to fracking and earthquake activity has also been investigated in West Virginia and Colorado.