Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking

The following compendium was written by Wendell G Bradley, PhD in Physics. Wendell lives in Windsor, CO.


Sixth Edition June 30, 2019

The following URL is the definitive voice; it is the literature search; it is the sought after scientific evidence.   And, it puts the lie to once relied upon (but unpublishable as scientific) CDPHE compilations based on cherry picked studies.  It is essential reading for anyone making decisions about fracking.


Selected excerpts from the document follow:


  • Rapid declines in the cost of wind, solar, and battery storage prices have now made renewable energy a cheaper alternative than coal and gas in most major economies.  Note (25).
  • A new analysis shows that a 100 percent renewable energy system in the United States would reduce electricity costs.  (26).
  • New gas and oil infrastructure projects are now at risk for becoming stranded assets. Evidence shows that, even in the absence of new climate policies, continuing investments in fossil fuel exports may substantially harm the U.S. economy.  (31).
  • Over 90 percent of all original research studies published from 2016-2018 on the health impacts of fracking found a positive association with harm or potential harm.  (35).
  • Examination of the peer-reviewed medical, public health, biological, earth sciences, and engineering literature uncovered no evidence that fracking can be practiced in a manner that does not threaten human health.
  • Even as oil prices have rebounded somewhat during the past two years, fracking companies are, collectively, still spending more on drilling than they receive by selling oil and gas.
  • By April 2019, the amount of natural gas burned off via flaring in the Permian oil fields had reached a record high and exceeded the amount of gas needed to power every residence in Texas. (107).
  • People living within setback distances are potentially vulnerable to thermal injury during a well blowout, and they are also susceptible to exposures of benzene and hydrogen sulfide at levels above those known to cause health risks.
  • In 29 out of 76 samples, toxin concentrations far exceeded federal health and safety standards, sometimes by several orders of magnitude. (170).
  • Over 300 water wells have been contaminated near pads.
  • About 10% of oil wells report spills each year.  About 5% of fracking fluid is lost to spills. Toxicity peaks during first days of flowback. Toxins from a leaking well can migrate 1 km/ wk. Need tracers to demonstrate.
  • Water withdrawals for fracking can deplete water levels by 51% in nearby streams. Streams near drilling and fracking activity had significantly higher numbers of methane-metabolizing and methane-producing microorganisms.
  • In just one Oklahoma county alone, there were 400 cases where frack fluid from horizontal oil wells flooded nearby vertical wells. (284, 285).
  • For a treatment plant that was specially designed to treat fracking wastewater, researchers found contamination for many miles downstream with fracking-related chemicals that included radium, barium, strontium, and chloride, as well as endocrine-disrupting and carcinogenic compounds. Effluents were so radioactive that they approached levels that would, in some U.S. states, classify them as radioactive waste and necessitate special disposal. (291, 292)
  • EPA Deputy Administrator Tom Burke said in a statement to American Public Media, “We found scientific evidence of impacts to drinking water resources at each stage of the hydraulic fracturing cycle.” (307)
  • High salinity of fracking wastewater minimizes its recycling options and thus contributes to the need for disposal wells.
  • The steady rate of well contamination over time…suggests that well failures, rather than the process of hydraulic fracturing itself, was the mechanism that created migration pathways for the stray gas to reach drinking water sources. Of the 42 affected wells, 11 had already been identified by state regulators as suffering from “barrier failures.”316.
  • Fracking wastewater has contaminated surface water and soils throughout North Dakota.
  • Chemical products are formed during the process of fracking and its aftermath. Hence, non-toxic additives could potentially react with other substances to create harmful byproducts. The authors conclude that a comprehensive assessment of risks would require an unabridged list of the chemical additives used for fracking, and they call for full disclosure. (331, 332).
  • Fracking fluid was found to contain arsenic, benzene, cadmium, formaldehyde, lead, and mercury.  336.
  • Laboratory coding systems were used by design to obscure possible detections of certain chemical contaminants in residents’ drinking water.
  • Spraying of oil-field wastewater have contaminated groundwater in Kern County, California.
  • “Pressure bulbs” are translated through rock layers to impact faults and fissures.
  • Wastewater samples collected from 329 fracked oil wells found that virtually all—98 percent—contained benzene at levels that exceeded standards for permissible concentrations in drinking water.
  • A drilling company could follow procedures — cementing and casing below the local aquifer — and still create a potential pathway for gas to migrate into drinking water.” (38).
  • A review of Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection files on fracking-related damage to drinking water revealed that 243 private water supplies in 22 counties had been contaminated or had lost flow and dried up as a result of nearby drilling and fracking operations in the past seven years.
  • The percentage of wells with some form of well barrier or integrity failure is highly variable and could be as high as 75 percent. Methane flow rates from plugged wells measured in this study were not consistently lower than unplugged wells and indeed were sometimes higher, even though wells are plugged for the precise purpose of limiting the escape of gases. P. 214
  • A draft report from the Pennsylvania DEP described a 2008 incident in Pennsylvania in which a person died in an explosion triggered by lighting a candle in a bathroom after natural gas had seeped into a septic system from an abandoned well. P. 214
  • Data from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission showed that fracking-related chemical spills in Colorado exceed an average rate of one spill per day. Of the 495 chemical spills that occurred in that state over a one-year period of time, nearly a quarter impacted ground or surface water.
  • A USGS study of pollution from oil production in North Dakota, where horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing are heavily used, identified two potential plumes of groundwater contamination covering 12 square miles.
  • State data in Colorado showed more than 350 instances of groundwater contamination resulting from more than 2,000 spills from oil and gas operations over the past five years.
  • Improper cementing and casing in one of the company’s gas wells allowed methane to migrate underground and contaminate 16 private drinking water wells in Bradford County. (460).
  • The chemical composition of fracking fluid and its interactions with black shale during the fracking process combine to make fracking waste radioactive. Explaining this finding in a news article, Makul Sharam said, “Radium is sitting on mineral and organic surfaces within the fracking site waiting to be dislodged. When water with the right salinity comes by, it takes on the radioactivity and transports it.”(499).
  • Even if you take away the spill water, you’ve still left behind the legacy of radioactivity in the soils” where it can linger for thousands of years. (506).
  • Radium-226 concentrations increased when flowback water was being reused for additional fracking operations. Also, radium-226 tended to accumulate in the bottom sludge. This sludge could be classified as radioactive solid waste because it exceeded the radium-226 limit for landfill disposal.
  • Researchers found that buildings in counties where the most fracking has taken place in the past decade have had significantly higher radon readings compared with those in low-fracking areas, a difference that did not exist before 2004.
  • Once you have a release of fracking fluid into the environment, you end up with a radioactive legacy.” (519).
  • If a million gallons of Marcellus Shale wastewater contaminated with the median level of radium found in New York were to spill into a waterway, 1.1 billion gallons of water would be required to dilute the radium to the maximum legal level. (525).
  • According to multiple studies in multiple states, the oil and gas industry’s promises of job creation from drilling for natural gas have been greatly exaggerated. Many of the jobs are short-lived, have gone to out-of-area workers, and, increasingly, are lost to automation. Fracking is unlikely to be a panacea for economically marginalized rural, suburban, or urban areas, and economic optimism regarding fracking tends to be overgeneralized, according to a study analyzing national data on socioeconomic wellbeing for the years 2000 to 2011.
  • Economists at Colorado State University quantified the “substantial environmental costs associated with hydraulic fracturing” as part of an analysis of the market and non-market costs and benefits of fracking in 14 U.S. states. These costs were “dominated by $27.2 billion ($12.5–$41.95 billion) health damages from air pollution.” They also found costs including “$3.8 billion ($1.15–$5.89 billion) in greenhouse gas emissions, $4 billion ($3.5–$4.45 billion) in wildlife habitat fragmentation, and $1 billion ($0.5–$1.6 billion) in pollution of private drinking water wells.”
  • In northeastern Colorado, ambient levels of atmospheric hydrocarbons have continued to increase even with stricter emission standards.
  • With increasing volumes of wastewater now exceeding the storage capacity for underground injection wells—and with underground injection linked to earthquake risk—Texas, Colorado, and New Mexico are now petitioning the EPA to allow release of fracking wastewater into rivers and streams and to allow its use for irrigation and watering livestock. These practices further imperil drinking water sources. (57).
  • Pollution near drilling and fracking operations is high enough in some Colorado communities to raise cancer risks, according to a 2018 study. (See footnote 145.)
  • A 2014 Colorado study found elevated incidence of neural tube defects and congenital heart defects. New studies in Texas and Colorado likewise found associations with infant deaths, high-risk pregnancies, and low birth weight.
  • A 2017 pilot study in British Columbia found elevated levels of muconic acid—a marker of benzene exposure—in the urine of pregnant women living near fracking sites. (See footnotes 625, 627, 642, 664.)
  • Benzene has been detected in the urine of well-pad workers in Colorado.
  • A 2019 analysis of socio-demographic characteristics of people living close to drilling and fracking operations in the states of Colorado minorities, especially African Americans, disproportionately live near fracking wells. (111).
  • The rapidly expanding body of scientific evidence compiled and referenced in the present volume is massive, troubling, and cries out for decisive action. Across a wide range of parameters, from air and water pollution to radioactivity to social disruption to greenhouse gas emissions, the data continue to reveal a plethora of recurring problems and harms that cannot be sufficiently averted through regulatory frameworks.  There is no evidence that fracking can operate without threatening public health directly and without imperiling climate stability upon which public health depends.  The only method of mitigating its grave harm to public health and the climate is a complete and comprehensive ban on fracking.

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