The most damaging impact of hydraulic fracturing is that the process will permanently remove hundreds of millions of gallons of fresh water from the water cycle. In addition to this fact, there are many more health, economic, and environmental impacts resulting from damage to the land, air, and water. Below are some of the most concerning health impacts resulting from hydraulic fracturing.
Water Contamination of Drinking Water Aquifers and Surface Water
Water contamination is the most widely publicised issue [source]. To begin, the fracking fluid is made up of highly toxic chemicals that are added to millions of gallons of fresh water, which creates millions of gallons of toxic fluid. This toxic fracking fluid is able to contaminate our drinking water aquifers and surface water in multiple ways [source]:
- Breaks and leaks of the well casing
- Surface contamination from spills
- Improper disposal
- Natural and unnatural pathways through geological layers
Toxic Air Pollution
Air pollution is a serious concern for the workers on site and anyone within proximity to the wellpad. First, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are dangerous chemicals used in the fracking fluid and include benzene, toulene, and ethylbezene [source]. Some of the VOCs, such as bezene, are carcinogenic. Most VOCs are attributed to low level ozone, commonly known as smog.
Another air pollutant is hydrogen sulfide gas, which can be released in the hydraulic fracturing process because hydrogen sulfide gas is stored within the same shale formations as the methane gas and oil [source]. Exposure to this gas at low concentrations can cause headache, dizziness, and upset stomach. While at higher concentrations, hydrogen sulfide gas inhalation can be fatal by inducing respiratory paralysis.
A third danger to the air surrounding hydraulic fracturing industrial zones is the crystalline silica sand that is used as a proppant. These fine granular sand particles are easily dispersed into the air and are an immediate threat to workers, individuals nearby, and those near transfer stations [source]. Acute exposure and long term low level exposure to crystalline silica sand particles are carcinogenic and can cause silicosis of the lungs [source].
Lastly, these dangers of air pollution are supplemental to the green house gas emissions that further alter global climates.
Release of Naturally Occurring, Radioactive Isotopes
There are health concerns with several naturally occurring, radioactive materials that reside deep within our geological formations and are released with the extraction process of hydraulic fracturing [source]. These radioactive particles, particularly radium, can further contaminate the fracking fluid that resurfaces and are known carcinogens [source]. This level of radioactive material would require specific handling, transportation, and disposal measures that, to our knowledge, are not being properly addressed by the oil and gas industry.