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Issue No. 21 - December 1, 2013

Year in Review (1/2)

Twice monthly since February 2013, the SGBI has featured the latest news and research related to hydraulic fracturing and its impacts on the environment, health, climate change, and local economies. In the final two issues of the year, we regroup some of the major developments of the year in the following categories: water, climate, health, economics, air pollution, and renewable energy as an alternative to fossil fuels. We hope readers will find these two review issues useful for future reference.

In addition, we recommend the "Memorandum Regarding Developments Concerning The Risks Of Shale Gas Development Since Fall 2012", a brief document by John Armstrong of the US group Frack Action which provides a list of major studies on the impacts of hydraulic fracturing and includes links to all these papers.

1. Water impacts



  • Post-treatment fracking wastewater found to contain toxic metals including barium and strontium at levels exceeding drinking water standards [SGBI No. 5]
  • Post-treatment Pennsylvania fracking wastewater found to be radioactive [SGBI No. 18]

Groundwater contamination
  • Methane found in higher concentrations in well water of homes less than 1 km from natural gas wells [SGBI No. 11]
  • Overview of threats to Canada's groundwater from methane migration [SGBI No. 11]
  • Methane migration caused by fracking found to be the cause of groundwater contamination in Dimock, Pennsylvania (suppressed EPA report) [SGBI No. 14]
  • Arsenic in groundwater at sites within 3 km of Texas gas installations found to be 18 times higher than at sites farther away [SGBI No. 15]
  • EPA finds arsenic in groundwater in Pavillion, Wyoming (2011 draft) and abandons study [SGBI No. 15]

Groundwater contamination
Water resource use

Water resource use
  • Fracking exacerbates water shortages in drought-stricken regions of US (press articles) [SGBI No. 12] [SGBI No. 20]
  • Fracking wastes more water than previously thought -- 90% of water used remains underground [SGBI No. 20]

2. Climate change

Air sampling reveals high emissions from gas field (Photo: Nature)
  • At methane emissions of 8% of production, unconventional shale gas is dirtier than coal in terms of greenhouse gas emissions (2011) [SGBI No. 3]
  • Only at methane emissions of 3.2% or less of production is shale gas an acceptable substitute for coal in terms of climate change (2012) [SGBI No. 14]
  • Methane emissions from gas installations in Colorado found to be 9% of production [SGBI No. 3]
  • Methane emissions from gas installations found to be as high as 12% [SGBI No. 14]
  • Natural gas worth approximately $1 billion was flared in North Dakota in 2012, emitting 4.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, equivalent to the annual emissions of approximately one million cars [SGBI No. 14]
  • International Energy Agency (IEA) chief economist warns that 2/3 of proven fossil fuel reserves will need to be left undeveloped if climate change is to remain below the 2°C threshold. IEA report urges world governments to limit greenhouse gas emissions from energy sector
    [SGBI No. 12]
    Fracking in North Dakota seen from space
    Fracking in North Dakota seen from space (Photo: Ecowatch)
    • Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report declares with 95% certainty that man’s activities are causing climate change, and increases global warming potential (GWP) of methane compared to an equivalent mass of carbon. Over a 20-year timescale, methane’s GWP now considered to be 86. [SGBI No. 18]

    3. Health impacts

    Gas Patch Roulette
    • Human and animal health problems reported by people living near shale gas installations, detailed in the online List of the Harmed, include headaches, nausea, skin problems, fatigue, chronic pain, and respiratory problems. Blood tests have revealed exposure to chemicals such as benzene and phenol. Two Earthworks reports compile reported health problems for Texas and Pennsylvania. [SGBI No. 5]
    • People living within a 1/2 mile of unconventional natural gas operations in Colorado are found to be at a greater risk of health problems including cancer. Air was found to contain non-methane hydrocarbons in high concentrations and endocrine disrupters such as benzene, which have adverse health effects at even extremely low concentrations. [SGBI No. 7]
    • Of 113 people surveyed, living in close proximity to coal seam gas (CSG) development in Queensland, Australia, 82.58% report adverse health impacts, with symptoms including cough, chest tightness, rashes, difficulty sleeping, joint pains, muscle pains and spasms, nausea and vomiting. In the same area of Queensland, radon levels are found to be three times higher inside the gas field than outside.  [SGBI No. 9]
    • Health risks associated with chemicals released into the air and water by hydraulic fracturing are particularly high for pregnant women and children [SGBI No. 11]:

    "Fracking exposes children and mothers to chemicals and substances such as methane, BTEX (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes), arsenic, radium, ozone, formaldehyde, radon, nitrogen oxides, methylene chloride, and silica sand. These substances are associated with low birth weight, birth defects, respiratory problems, cancer, and fertility problems."

    Fracking Poses Health Risks to Pregnant Women and Children
    (Photo: Ecowatch)
    • Numerous presentations on health risks associated with unconventional gas extraction, from workshop held by US National Academy of Sciences [SGBI No. 11]
    • Full-shift air samples at each of 11 hydraulic fracturing sites in five states reveal silica levels that exceeded occupational health exposure limits, sometimes by as much as 10 times [SGBI No. 15]
    • Collection of resources for medical professionals: links to "fractsheets", case studies, brochures, and video courses [SGBI No. 17]
    • Report on pollution and associated health impacts caused by unconventional oil and gas extraction in Texas [SGBI No. 17]
    • Animal health issues covered in in-depth article in The Nation [SGBI, No. 2]