This chapter explores the process and potential effects of hydraulic fracturing in a public health framework. It defines the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and public health by presenting the pathways and nature of contamination. It concludes by examining the potential effects contaminants may have on the human populations as well as offering recommendations for future studies and analysis.
Pathways of Contamination
It is believed that the potential health consequences of hydraulic fracturing begin at the start and last long after the operation has stopped (McDermott-Levy et. al. 2013:46), which makes it difficult to track where specific contaminates are originating in the ...view middle of the document...
These chemicals have the potential affect the subsurface aquifers (Witter et.al. 2008:4), which is one source of potable drinking water. The underground aquifer, may be affected, altered or contaminated by fracturing fluids or mobilization of naturally occurring minerals, gases and radiation (APHA 2012:6). A study conducted in Wyoming by the EPA found fracturing byproducts in water wells close to the drilling site and determined that the cause of this contamination was from leaky pits that are used to store the waste from fracturing (McDermott-Levy 2013:49). This means that the community’s drinking water supply will be in danger because of faulty procedures and methods of extraction.
One of the primary health concerns of water contamination is methane migration from the active drilling sites to the aquifers/groundwater supply. The level of methane in drinking water accessed from the aquifers directly influences the possibility of risks for explosions and asphyxiation hazards for households (McDermott-Levy 2013:48). Fracturing fluids, explained in a later section, could be to blame for this increase, however, they are exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act, which means that the Environmental Protection Agency does not have a baseline or monitor how much methane is in the drinking water (Finkel et.al. 2013:1161). There is a lack of research on the short and long term effects of chronic exposure to methane in drinking water (McDermott-Levy 2013:49). Due to concerns from citizens, the EPA and several state department of health have begun the process of establishing studies to collect data on methane quantity and concentration in drinking water.
Another possible contamination pathway that affects the ground water source could be soil contamination. Soil contamination occurs when drilling sludge, containing fracturing fluid, drilling mud, radioactive material from subsurface land formation, hydrocarbons, metals and volatile organic compounds, that are all brought up to the surface, which introduces them into the environment (Witter et.al. 2008:4). This sludge is then typically left to dry in surface waste pits that are often not covered so the hazardous chemicals leak into the soil and enter into the aquifers and soil surrounding it, which will spread the chemicals even further from their original starting point.
ii. Surface Water
There are two kinds of water that exist on the surface-level as waste from the process of hydraulic fracturing. They are flowback and produced water. Flowback water contains several chemicals that are known to cause health effects such as skin, eye, and sensory organ damage (Finkel and Law 2004:784). The second is produced water, which is the water that is used...