Foreword to the Second Edition
The Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking (the Compendium) is a fully-referenced compilation of the evidence for the risks and harms of fracking that brings together findings from the scientific and medical literature, government and industry reports, and journalistic investigation. It is a public, open-access document that is housed on the website of Concerned Health Professionals of New York (www.concernedhealthny.org). Since its release in July 2014, it has been used and referenced all over the world.
The Compendium, a subject of public health forums on both sides of the Atlantic—and on both coasts here in the United States—has been translated into Spanish and adopted for use in the European Union, South Africa, and Australia. Here in New York State, it serves as the foundation and comprehensive rationale for a minimum three-to-five-year moratorium on fracking: from its first publication, the evidence contained in the Compendium leads us to this unwavering conclusion.
But this document has not traveled as fast as the science itself. In the five months since the Compendium’s original release, dozens of additional investigative reports and research papers have been published that clarify, corroborate, and further explicate the intractable problems that natural gas extraction via hydraulic fracturing brings with it. As documented by the study citation database maintained by Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy, three-fourths of the available studies on the impacts of shale gas development have been published within the past 24 months. The number of peer-reviewed publications doubled between 2011 and 2012 and then doubled again between 2012 and 2013. In the last year alone, 154 peer-reviewed studies on the impacts of fracking were released. Almost all of them reveal problems. (See footnote 1.)
Thus, this second edition, which contains more than 80 new entries, continues to be top-heavy with recent publications.
Here are some emerging trends in the new data. First, growing evidence shows that regulations are simply not capable of preventing harm. That is both because the number of wells and their attendant infrastructure keeps increasing and, more importantly, because some of fracking’s many component parts, which include the subterranean geological landscape itself, are simply not controllable.
As noted last month in a new study on fracking-related air pollution in northeastern Colorado: even though the volume of toxic emissions per well might be decreasing, overall air quality in the shale field continues to deteriorate as the rapid, continuing increase in the number of wells cancels out improvements to air quality brought about by more stringent regulations. (See footnote 4.) Similarly, the results of a new study from Texas raises the possibility that methane can migrate into aquifers through unseen cracks and fissures in the rock surrounding the wellbore in ways that no cementing and casing protocols, however strictly applied, can prevent. (See footnotes 55 and 56.) New findings from West Virginia show how unmapped, long-abandoned wells—including those drilled generations ago—can become re-pressurized during nearby fracking operations and serve as conduits for the contamination of drinking water. (See footnote 57.) A new study by Princeton researchers working in Pennsylvania found that, many decades after their abandonment, plugged and unplugged wells alike leaked significant amounts of methane into the atmosphere. There are an estimated three million abandoned oil and gas wells in the United States; the locations of many are unmapped and unknown. (See footnotes 265 and 266.) No set of regulations can obviate these problems.
Second, drinking water is at risk from drilling and fracking activities and associated waste disposal practices. As documented by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection in a review of its records, 234 private drinking water wells in Pennsylvania have been contaminated by drilling and fracking operations during the past seven years. These do not include drinking water wells contaminated by spills of fracking wastewater or wells that went dry as a result of nearby drilling and fracking activities. (See footnotes 68 and 69.) In California, the injection of liquid fracking waste directly into groundwater aquifers threatens contamination of large numbers of public drinking water supplies. (See footnote 78.)
Third, drilling and fracking emissions often contain strikingly high levels of benzene. A potent human carcinogen, benzene has been detected in the urine of wellpad workers (at levels known to raise risks for leukemia), in private drinking water wells contaminated by fracking operations, and in ambient air at nearby residences. In some cases, concentrations have far exceeded federal safety standards. Such exposures represent significant public health risks. (See footnotes 3–8, 12, 57, 174.)
Fourth, public health problems associated with drilling and fracking are becoming increasingly apparent. Documented indicators variously include increased rates of hospitalization, ambulance calls, emergency room visits, self-reported respiratory and skin problems, motor vehicle fatalities, trauma, drug abuse, infant mortality, congenital heart defects, and low birth weight. (See footnotes 192–205.)
Fifth, natural gas is a bigger threat to the climate than previously supposed. Methane is not only a more potent greenhouse gas than formerly appreciated, real-world leakage rates are higher than predicted. Within the last five months, multiple teams of independent scientists have published data on fugitive emissions that, all together, call into question earlier presumed climate benefits from replacing coal with natural gas. Further, evidence increasingly suggests that the natural gas abundance brought by fracking is slowing the transition to renewable energy and is thus exacerbating, rather than mitigating, the climate change crisis. (See footnotes 313–318.)
Download and read the report in PDF format below.