Pregnant women, children, indigenous people, communities of colour and low-income neighbourhoods are disproportionately harmed by fracking, according to the latest review in the US of risks and damage.
Updated analysis published this week by Concerned Health Professionals of New York and Physicians for Social Responsibility, concluded:
“Emerging science shows that fracking is an environmental injustice, with injuries not borne equally by all.”
The findings are based on analysis of peer-reviewed medical and scientific journals, investigative journalism and reports by or for government agencies.
The compendium, now in its eighth edition and running to 577 pages, cited studies which found:
- Well pads, pipelines and associated infrastructure in multiple US fracking regions were more likely to be in indigenous, non-white, or low-income communities
- Induced seismicity in Oklahoma disproportionately affected communities with low incomes, female-headed and African-American households, workers employed in farming or extraction and Hispanic populations of employed men
- Infant health problems, including birth defects, pre-term birth and low birth weight, were more likely in children born to women living near fracking operations
The researchers concluded:
“the vast body of scientific studies now published on hydraulic fracturing in the peer-reviewed scientific literature confirms that the climate and public health risks from fracking are real and the range of environmental harms wide.
“Our examination uncovered no evidence that fracking can be practiced in a manner that does not threaten human health directly or without imperiling climate stability upon which human health depends.”
It said studies indicated that US fracking was unpredictable with “innate engineering problems”. These included uncontrolled fracturing, induced earthquakes, well casing failures, radiation and methane releases, flaring and pathways for contamination via abandoned wells.
There were well-established links between US drilling, fracking and associated infrastructure and harms to health, the Compendium said. These included cancers, asthma, respiratory diseases, skin complaints, heart concerns, and mental health problems.
The authors said only a complete and comprehensive ban on fracking in the US could deal with the impacts of the process:
“The rapidly expanding body of evidence compiled here is massive, troubling, and cries out for decisive action. Across a wide range of parameters, the data continue to reveal a plethora of recurring problems that cannot be sufficiently averted through regulatory frameworks. The risks and harms of fracking are inherent in its operation.”
The compendium said fracking for oil and gas was “driving the current surge in global levels of methane”.
It said more than 100 studies showed that air pollution accompanied fracking, with more than 200 airborne chemical contaminants detected near drilling and fracking operations. Of these, 61 were classified as hazardous air pollutants with known health risks, it said.
The Compendium said the US oil and gas industry pumped more than two billion gallons of fluid underground each day to extract hydrocarbons or as waste disposal.
Demand for water in fracking operations in the US had more than doubled since 2016, the Compendium said, and more than 180 studies showed that fracking-related activities had depleted or contaminated water resources, including groundwater.
The authors said more than 17.6m US residents now lived within a mile of at least one active oil and gas well.
Fracking was now the standard method for oil and gas extraction in the US, they said. Up to 2022, an estimated one million wells have been fracked in the US and hydraulic fracturing now produced at least 79% of US gas and 65% of crude oil.