Mounting Evidence: The Harm Caused By Fracking

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A tidal wave of extreme energy extraction is sweeping across the globe, of which unconventional oil and gas extraction (colloquially known as fracking) is a major component. It is being driven by the progressive depletion of easier to extract fossil fuels which is leading to the exploitation of increasingly harder to extract resources. This process in itself has severe effects on human societies but the more immediate effects where the extraction takes place are becoming all too obvious.

The evidence from the US, Canada and Australia where tens of thousands of shale oil and gas and coal bed methane (CBM) wells have already been drilled, that fracking destroys water supplies, air quality, and people’s health has been mounting for years and is now becoming very difficult to ignore. Beyond these more well known issues lurks a whole host of local and regional impacts, from frack sand to ‘orphaned’ wells.

Globally, we can afford to burn considerably less than half (perhaps only a quarter) of known conventional fossil fuel reserves and still have some chance of maintaining a liveable planet. Any exploitation of unconventional fossil fuels is putting the world on a path to a devastated future. That said, the cumulative effect of all the local impacts spread over the vast areas needed by fracking cannot be underestimated.

If we do not make a stand fracking will lead us into a hellish future. While fracking is bad it is also very short term, and the greatest threat it poses is actually as a gateway to even more extreme extraction methods. The UK government is already selling licences for Underground Coal Gasification (UCG), literally setting fire to coal underground, to try to extract energy.

This post links to news articles (rather than the scientific studies on which they are often based) to make it accessible to as many people as possible. However, if you are interested in digging more deeply please see our Reports & Evidence page.

If you have suggestions for additional material you can submit links to stories, groups and reference websites here, scientific reports and evidence here. If you find broken links or are aware of issues we have missed out please email

Leading UK Fracking Company, Cuadrilla Resources, Whose Site At Balcombe Was Blockaded Last Summer, Has Been Censured By The ASA And DECC (Click To Enlarge)

Fracking in the UK would require tens of thousands of wells to be drilled, severely impact local water resources and be completely incompatible with UK’s carbon emissions targets

Chemical Contaminants Detected In Two Different Water Wells (Purple And Orange) In Pavilion, Wyoming Which Sits In The Middle Of A Gas Field (Click To Enlarge)

Thousands of cases of water contamination with toxic and carcinogenic substances caused by unconventional oil and gas extraction have been documented including in Pennsylvania, Wyoming, Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, Alabama, Ohio, Alberta and Queensland

EPA report on fracking in Texas raises new concerns (LA Times, December 2013) Over three years, the EPA has sampled water in Dimock, Pa., Pavillion, Wyo., and Parker County after residents complained that their water had turned foul once natural gas drilling began nearby and in each case the EPA found evidence of contamination but declined to pursue further water sampling or disciplinary action against the energy companies

Infra-Red Image Of A Frack Pad In The Barnett Shale, Texas Showing Hydrocarbon Fumes (Invisible To Naked Eye) Boiling Off Condensate Tanks (Click To Enlarge)

Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Pennsylvania and Texas have all recorded massively increased air pollution as a result of fracking, including local concentrations of toxic hydrocarbons fumes as well as region-wide ozone pollution, with residents suffering headaches, sore throats, nosebleeds, dizziness and breathing difficulties

Radioactive Contamination

Radioactive Radium 226 And 228 In Pennsylvania Waterways Showing High Concentrations Downstream Of Fracking Wastewater Outfalls (Click To Enlarge)

Radioactive materials from shale formations are brought to the surface in huge quantities and are threatening to pollute drinking water supplies in Pennsylvania, while workers transporting frack waste are getting sick

Fracking Wastewater Can Be Highly Radioactive (Reader Supported News, January 2013) A U.S. Geological Survey report found that millions of barrels of wastewater from unconventional wells in Pennsylvania were up to 3,609 times more radioactive than the federal limit for drinking water and 300 times more radioactive than the limit for nuclear plant discharges, as the workers transporting wastewater are getting sick undiagnosed conditions

Six Counties In Texas (Outlined In Black) Where Breast Cancer Rates Are Shooting Up, Whilst Declined In The Rest Of US, Compared To Locations Of Barnett Shale Gas Wells (Red Dots) (Click To Enlarge)

Wherever fracking is happening, including Texas, Colorado, Pennsylvania and Queensland, people are getting sick as a result of the toxic, carcinogenic and hormone-disrupting chemicals they are exposed to via both air and water, with symptoms from headaches and breathing difficulties to neurological impairment and cancer

Study Shows Fracking Is Bad for Babies (Bloomberg, January 2014) A study of Pennsylvania birth records from 2004 to 2011, by researchers from Princeton University, Columbia University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has found that infants born within a 2.5-kilometer radius of fracking sites have increased likelihood of low birth weight and more health problems

Fracking ourselves to death in Pennsylvania (Salon, May 2013) Serious health crisis unfolding as the fracking industry has spread through states like Texas, Colorado, and Pennsylvania where people’s symptoms are the same: rashes, nosebleeds, severe headaches, difficulty breathing, joint pain, intestinal illnesses, memory loss, and more

Fracking’s most horrifying health risks (Salon, December 2012) The threat from fracking to human health includes air pollution, chemical contamination of drinking water, radioactive wastewater and radon gas, but the long latency of many illnesses, a lack of accurate health data gathering, and conflicts of interests affecting research means it may be a long time before the implications are fully understood

Marcellus Gas Wells Likely Harming Public Health: Survey (Bloomberg, October 2012) People living near natural gas wells in Pennsylvania, where more than 5,000 shale gas wells have been drilled since 2009, say drilling has triggered respiratory problems, fatigue, severe headaches and skin rashes, according to a survey of residents in 14 Pennsylvania counties, while air samples reveal 19 volatile organic compounds

Breast cancer rate climbs up (Denton Record-Chronicle, August 2011) According to a 2011 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, invasive breast cancer is on the rise in the six Texas counties with the Barnett Shale’s most intense gas drilling development, even as the incidence rate for the disease is falling across the rest of the nation

Agriculture & Animal Health

Cows Tails Fell Off, Many Got Sick And 5 Died After 32 Wells Were Drilled Near A Ranch In The Bakken Shale, North Dakota (Click To Enlarge)

Fracking is threatening to compromise food supplies with animals and crops dying in Alberta, North Dakota, New Mexico, California and Pennsylvania as a result of exposure to chemicals from drilling operations

Fracking Our Food Supply (Nation, November 2012) Five cows dropped dead (with more getting sick and their tails falling off), in addition to several cats and two dogs, after fracking began on thirty-two Bakken Shale oil wells within three miles of a ranch in North Dakota

Study suggests hydrofracking is killing farm animals, pets (Cornell University, March 2012) A new report has found dozens of cases of illness, death and reproductive issues in cows, horses, goats, llamas, chickens, dogs, cats, fish which could be the result of exposure to gas drilling operations

Pronghorn Antelope In The Upper Green River Basin, Wyoming Which Are Threatened By Thousands Of Fracking Sites Fragmenting Their Habitat (Click To Enlarge)

Fracking requires thousands of miles of pipelines, roads, drilling pads and related infrastructure which is fragmenting ecosystems, while pollution and waste also pose a severe threat to wildlife

Fracking Away the Wildlife (Pacific Standard, August 2012) Gas fields in western Wyoming are fracturing of the habitat of the American pronghorn antelope, as thousands of fracking sites interfere with the pronghorn’s migration routes, forcing them to abandon up to 82 percent of their highest quality winter range

Concentration Of Methane In Water Wells As A Function Of Their Distance From Marcellus Shale Wells (Click To Enlarge)

Methane is migrating into groundwater from fracking wells causing explosions and fires where it builds up in buildings, and at least two rivers, the Condamine River in Queensland and the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania, are bubbling methane

Stray gas plagues NEPA Marcellus wells (Scranton Times-Tribune, July 2011) As shale gas drilling has increased in Pennsylvania, so has the prevalence of methane migrating into water supplies causing a blast in a Dimock water well, forced a family to evacuate a Terry Twp. home, bubbled up in the Susquehanna River and affecting 35 drinking-water wells in Bradford and Susquehanna counties according to state investigators

Methane threat to drinking water (Nature, May 2011) Study by US environmental scientists at Duke University finds significantly increases methane concentrations in drinking water taken from wells within 1 km of one or more fracking operations in northeastern Pennsylvania and nearby areas of New York state

Concentration Of Methane Upwind (Blue) And Downwind (Red) Of The Unita Basin Gasfields In Utah Showing That The Field Is Leaking Large Amounts Of Gas (Click To Enlarge)

Fugitive emission of methane, a potent greenhouse gas leaking out of gas wells, pipelines and compressor stations, may total over 10 percent of production making fracking worse than burning coal in terms of climate change, over a 20 year time scale

Fracking Waste Pit On A Site In Pennsylvania Constructed To Hold Contaminated Flowback (Click To Enlarge)

The quantities of toxic and radioactive waste being produced by fracking, are overwhelming the limited capacity of treatment plants, which cannot remove all contaminants in any case, and combined with spilling and dumping is contaminating land, waterways and groundwater

Fracking Trucks Line Up After Midnight To Collect Water From The Susquehanna River In Pennsylvania (Click To Enlarge)

Fracking requires vast quantities of water, millions of gallons per well, which is stressing local water resources in areas like Texas, Colorado, Michigan and North Dakota, where farmers have been outbid for irrigation water and in some cases whole towns running dry

Cumulative Number Of Earthquakes Greater Than Magnitude 3 In The US Since 1967 Showing Large Increase Last Few Years During The Fracking Boom (Click To Enlarge)

Fracking, and particularly the injection of fracking waste into disposal wells, is resulting in a massive increase in earthquakes in the US, including swarms of hundreds or thousands around individual wells, with the largest earthquake a magnitude 5.7 in Oklahoma which caused significant damage and injuries

Accident Rates Involving Heavy Goods Vehicles In Pennsylvania Counties With (Dashed) And Without (Dotted) Significant Fracking (Click To Enlarge)

Fracking has massive transport requirements, to and from thousands of dispersed sites, often along small rural roads, and this is driving a carnage of accidents, explosions, spills and deaths on the roads, railways, and potentially soon waterways, of the US, from Texas to Pennsylvania

Barnett Shale Gas Pipeline In Cleburne, Texas Where A Massive Explosion Killed One Person (Click To Enlarge)

Long after the drilling rigs are gone a legacy of fracking is thousands of miles of pipelines, carving up the countryside, while the inevitable leaks and explosions provide a constant threat to the areas concerned

Down the Pipe (Fort Worth Weekly, November 2011) When the drilling rigs are long gone, the dangers of gas pipelines will be just beginning, with more than 115 serious pipeline incidents in Texas between 2000 and 2009, which caused death, serious injury, or major property damage

The Fire Down Below (Texas Observer, November 2010)* Driven by the shale gas-drilling boom in North Texas high-pressure natural gas pipelines are spreading across the state, with 360,000 miles laid already and more planned, and a series of huge gas-pipeline explosions causing injuries, deaths and destruction are the inevitable result

Blowouts, Spills & Explosions

A West Virgina Fracking Site Where An Explosion And Fire Killed 2 Workers And Injured 5 Others (Click To Enlarge)

Fatalities among oil and gas workers have climbed to the highest level since records began in the US, amid a catalogue of explosions, well blowouts and spills at fracking sites across the US, Canada and Australia


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