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Guest post by David Lowry: Fracking’s hidden hazards

David Lowry2In this guest post, Dr David Lowry, of the Institute for Resource and Security Studies, Cambridge, Massachusetts, highlights warnings in recent reports on potential health impacts from fracking.

A study published by independent academic researchers at the University of Missouri at the end of 2013 found greater hormone-disrupting (so-called ‘gender-bender’ chemicals) properties in water located near fracking than in areas without drilling.

Endocrine disruptors interfere with the body’s endocrine system, which controls numerous body functions with hormones such as the female hormone estrogen and the male hormone androgen. Exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals, such as those studied in the MU research, has been linked by other research to cancer, birth defects and infertility. (for full study see:

Other US-based scientists at Yale University have found 55 fracking pollutants linked to cancer, including 20 associated with leukaemia or lymphoma. Their recent study concluded:

“These findings support the hypothesis that exposure to unconventional oil and gas development could increase the risk of leukaemia”.

The pollutants linked to leukaemia include: benzene, cadmium, formaldehyde and several toxic types of hydrocarbons. More than 80 % of the 1,177 water pollutants and 143 air pollutants from the US fracking industry couldn’t be assessed for cancer risk because of a lack of data, the paper, published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, stated.

Moreover, research published in the US by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found levels of radon in Pennsylvania homes – where 42% of readings surpass what the US government considers safe – have been on the rise since 2004, around the time that the fracking industry began drilling natural gas wells in the state. (Increased Levels of Radon in Pennsylvania Homes Correspond to Onset of Fracking, April 9, 2015;

In the UK, the heath watchdog, Public Health England, warned in a report published three years ago:

“If the natural gas delivery point were to be close to the extraction point with a short transit time, radon present in the natural gas would have little time to decay … there is therefore the potential for radon gas to be present in natural gas extracted from UK shale.” (Shale gas extraction: review of the potential public health impacts of exposures to chemical and radioactive pollutants, 30 October 2013;

Interested readers should also consult the over 200-page Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking – a fully referenced compilation of the evidence outlining the risks and harms of fracking, produced by the  Physicians for Social Responsibility ( and the Concerned Health Professionals of New York (

  • Dr. David Lowry is a senior research fellow at IRSS. He is also an independent research consultant based in London, UK, with specialist knowledge of UK and EU nuclear and environment policy.

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110 replies »

  1. I agree that these studies do rise awareness of the hazards and health risks potential related to fracking. These pollutants are clear a serious hazardous wastes. But I am sure the industry is aware of the risks the regulators are aware of it the people on this blog and in community are aware of it and almost all of us don’t want these risks to occur to either themselves or the people in the community. So why continue spread the fears with blanketed message to the community.

  2. For Phil C – comment on “Obey the Rules….” old post, in case you missed it?

    Phil C
    July 8, 2017 at 8:34 pm

    And how many times has that happened, and were they recovered, or detonated?

    Paul Tresto
    July 9, 2017 at 2:00 pm

    Several times in 30 years; there are a number of reasons that undetonated (live) guns are recovered. The depth control sonde may fail (GR/CCL). If this fails you cannot get the guns to the exact depth you wish to perforate so they are recovered and the sonde changed out (wireline guns) and re-run.

    Detonator fails – usually due to problem with the wireline signal / cable.

    I don’t recall ever seeing only a % of charges not detonating – it is all or none.

    Tubing conveyed perforating – failures usually due to detonating mechanism not working (debris on top of detonator preventing mechanical detonation with sinker or drop bar). Pressure activation failure due to leak in running string.

    Primacord failure between detonator and first charge (I recall they fire bottom up but not 100% sure).

    I have never seen a detonation in the wrong place (off depth, wrong formation, while running, while at surface, in the truck, on the boat, in the 747 we have used to fly them in from Houston…).

    Is this what you wanted?

    • Hi Paul, yes, i did miss that, it is interesting and somewhat concerning, i am seeking advice on whether i should ask the inevitable questions.

      Thanks for your candour anyway.

      I will get back to you on that.

      • Concerning – why? Inevitable questions – why? The explosives are inert (we fly them by the truck load on commercial freight aircraft) – no different to a shaped charge in an anti-tank armour piercing shell. The detonator needs to be activated to detonate the primacord which detonates the charges. The charges are sized, spaced and oriented in a particular way depending on the formation and the activity. The hydraulic fracture stimulations I have conducted used very few charges in order to focus the stimulation to a specific part of the formation.

  3. It is pretty evident how some people with an anti agenda do not even bother to check the basic facts, let alone any more complex relationships. And then they have the gall to state it is not scaremongering!

    “scaremonger-a person who spreads frightening reports or rumours.”

    Well, I will continue to filter those, as I do others with other types of agendas. It only revisits an old, sterile, argument that has been examined many times over. My conclusion remains the same and reposting the same type of data may excite some looking at the issue as “newbies”, but most of us gave up debating whether the wheel was a force for good a long time ago.

    • It is not scaremongering, fearmongering, or any kind of mongering, or anything other than the need to raise attention to serious issues.
      That is everyones right and our duty as UK citizens. That is inalienable. History is replete with heeded and unheeded warnings. Many of us if not all of us, owe our existence to such warnings. Had similar warnings been treated as this pitiful labelling of scaremongering and fearmongering, how many of us today will be severely injured, or simply not exist?

      The concept of scare/fearmongering is simply suicidal.

      Would that we should have listened to warnings about serious issues prior to this date, i am sure you don’t need me to point out at least one event that would warranted the heeding of warnings?

    • Of course there are always a few “bad apples” in the barrel. Clearly not Sherwulfe, Local Farmer or Refracktion, not even the granny. But this sort of damage can be fixed fairly quickly. Delaying the inevitable.

      • The inevitable drop in prices as everyone battles to sell their oil. Keep drilling US.

        EIA now sees U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude averaging $48.95 this year, down from last month’s forecast for $50.78. The agency also tempered its outlook for 2018, knocking its WTI forecast down to $49.58 from $53.61.

        UK shale nowhere near viable at these prices.

        • “The outlook for oil supplies is “increasingly worrying,” with about $1 trillion in investments lost during the current industry downturn and fewer new deposits being discovered, Nasser said at a conference in Istanbul. Some estimates suggest that at least 20 million barrels a day of new output is needed over the next five years to offset rising oil demand and the natural decline of developed fields, he said.

          “There seems to be a growing belief that the world can prematurely disengage from proven and reliable energy sources like oil and gas, on the mistaken assumption that alternatives will be rapidly deployed,” Nasser said in a speech on Monday. The petroleum industry will be at the heart of global energy for years, and the transition to use of alternatives will be “long and complex,’ he said.”

    • Is assault a criminal act? Is invading a communities land, undermining it and poisoning their land, air and water a criminal act? Is accusing others of criminal acts, whilst ignoring or protecting even worse crimes a criminal act?

      Isnt there a criminal act of concealing or not reporting a crime?

      Or is it one rule for those who are supported and another for those who oppose?

      Forgive me, i thought the law is applicable to everyone, not just for those who oppose the invasion and pollution of their land?

      I believe there is a name for such thinking?

    • Again a presumption is made TW because it fits your M.O. But detectives look at all possibilities – and there will be more than one. Please do not throw stones in the greenhouse. Wait for the investigation to be completed. Then you are not spreading false facts.

  4. Back to Radon
    The report mentioned ( the base report not the Johns Hopkins Flyer ) found that Radon levels in basements and some 1 st floors, has been increasing across all counties, whether drilled or not.
    Larger increases were to be found in Reading Prong County, from 2002. There is no drilling in this county.
    There is a small difference between the increase in areas drilled and not drilled.
    See fig 4 in the report.
    The report mentions a number of factors that may cause the issue, but cannot link any with the general increase.
    The report does not mention the 42% figure for readings exceeding government guidelines, but does mention that in reading Prong County 300,000 homes have been sample and found above the limit. The study looks at 866,734 cases.
    The study shows levels fluctuating over the study period. Sometimes down and sometimes up.
    The report concludes that further work is required to understand the difference in readings, in particular well water, house construction, community ( poorer houses had lower readings ), geological unit and finally unconventional drilling.

    The report looks good, and in reading it you would consider further work is certainly required in Reading Prong County, where natural background levels are highest and rising faster than other counties.

    The Johns Hopkins flyer says …. Increased Levels of Radon in Pennsylvania Homes Correspond to Onset of Fracking.

    The third paragraph says that ………there are significantly higher readings of Radon compared to buildings in low activity areas. There were no such differences in 2004.

    The base report does not say this, and a look at Table 4 in the base report shows that the Johns Hopkins comment is not true. There is a small but statistically significant difference, similar to the small difference between areas of no activity and medium activity, where no activity results in higher Radon readings

    Hence, from a good report, in my opinion, John Hopkins have interpreted the results with anti frack spin. They also highlight the 42% statistic, but fail to mention that most of that comes from a County with no drilling, but higher (50%) levels of Radon, and where the levels are rising faster than any other part of the state.

    So, 10/10 for the base study. 2/10 for the secondary interpretation and 0/10 for quoting the flyer as a cause for concern.

    The good folks of the state are better served by following the basics on Radon reduction in the home than worrying about fracking. Indeed, it seems as if they are, as the study notes, repeat samples show large drops in Radon levels. In particular the use of well water shows a large increase in Radon levels, and this in all areas, but tied to geology.

    There are issues re Radon and oil and gas production but they are not well served by the Johns Hopkins interpretation in the flyer. No doubt the next TENORM study will inform the debate.

  5. The ‘scaremongering’ claim is just a shabby tactic. To decode – it means the pro-frackers actually don’t want to deal with the science, in fact they are actually the ones being alarmist (about the ‘antis’). They are afraid of the science catching up with them. Beyond quoting Energy in Depth – a PR/advocacy arm of Oil&Gas – which feeds them with all the script they need to sound plausible they are progressively losing the battle on the science connected with the health and environmental impacts of fracking.

    If anyone wants to debate against their weaponized tactics the first thing to recognise is how they get away with it so readily. It’s relies on the psychology of naming and shaming. Always, you will notice, the author or source of a critical report will be ‘de-legitimized’ by attacks on their credibility. This is nearly immediately followed by various pronouncements from the high moral ground which they have assumed, a bit of an ego trip to be frank. They will then continue to sound off like wise old heads who have seen it all before. When you realise how absurd and ridiculous they’re being you won’t be cowed or intimidated – which is what was meant to happen.

    • It reminds me of the 5,000,000 gallons of radioactive waste United Utilities, Davyhulme, Manchester secretly dumped in to the Machester Ship canal on behalf of Caudrilla a few years back.

      To be fair though to United Utilities, we were later told that the water was very low in radioactivity ..

      Maybe someone else can expand on this.

      • Jack
        Looks like the stream bottom is contaminated, with the highest readings up to 200m from the discharge point.
        Although the discharge is at acceptable levels, looks like the salinity causes the concentration issue. The problem does not seem to carry long distance, as far as I can make out from the report.
        Key issue identified in the report is to either re inject the frack fluid, ( as some states require, but not practicable in Pennsylvania due to the geology ), to re use as much as possible, which is ongoing, with up to 70 % of frack fluid being re used, or to pop it through better treatment plants, such as those operated by Eureka Resources.
        The offending material was dug out post the study.
        The report is dated 2013. Maybe more samples have been taken downstream as the affect seems very local ( not that the fish would know that and avoid it, of course ).
        The Smithsonian has a good précis.

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