Current laws in Pennsylvania allow hydraulic fracturing operations to occur too close to homes and businesses, according to a new report that suggests individuals who reside or work in the area may be placed at risk for serious health side effects.
In a study published in the medical journal PLOS One on August 16, researchers from the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project determined that hydraulic fracturing gas extraction operations should be at least a quarter of a mile away from homes and businesses. They should likely be even further away from facilities with more vulnerable populations, such as schools, the report indicates.
More commonly referred to as “fracking”, hydraulic fracturing involves drilling and fracturing of shale rock to release oil and gas. Fracking results in the injection of water, sand and chemicals into wells at high pressures, to crack the surrounding rock, thus releasing the natural gas underground and allowing it to flow to the head of the well.
Problems from fracking have previously been linked to negative environmental effects to the surrounding communities, due the impact on drinking water, as well as increased dust and exhaust from drilling rigs, compressors and the transportation of the water, sand and chemicals. The process has also been linked to increased earthquake activity. The extent of the potential harm to humans living close to these fracking sites has yet to be determined.
This latest report was created by a panel of 18 experts, including scientists, researchers, health experts and environmental advocates, who looked at the minimum setback requirements and compared them to what was known about the health risks of fracking.
The panelists could not agree on how far minimum setback requirements should keep fracking operations from homes and businesses, with preferred distances ranging from 1/4 to two miles. However, the panel agreed that the current laws were not protective enough, given the health risks previous studies and research has linked to hydraulic fracturing. However, the panel did indicate that more research was needed into those health effects in order to help experts better determine what the minimum setback distance should be.
“The results suggest that if setbacks are used the distances should be greater than ¼ of a mile from human activity, and that additional setbacks should be used for settings where vulnerable groups are found, including schools, daycare centers, and hospitals,” the researchers concluded. “The lack of consensus on setback distances between 1/4 and 2 miles reflects the limited health and exposure studies and need to better define exposures and track health.”
Fracking Health Problems
Fracking has become an increasing concern to environmentalists, lawmakers, and local communities, as dozens of plaintiffs file lawsuits against the drilling companies for contaminating their local wells and exposing them to toxic chemicals that damaged their health and lowered their property values.
A number of fracking lawsuits have been filed in the United States, with one of the most recent verdicts issued in March 2017 by a federal jury in Pennsylvania that awarded two families in excess of $4.2 million in damages over fracking tainting their drinking water. The two families were the last of more than 40 families in the Dimock, Pennsylvania area to resolve lawsuits over fracking problems.
Similar cases have been filed in Texas, which is another popular state for fracking. In 2014 a family was awarded $2.9 million in damages due to the drilling company creating a public nuisance from fracking that caused nearly two dozen wells to become contaminated with toxic chemicals.
Fracking operations also face an increasing number of lawsuits over earthquakes in Oklahoma and other states. Recent research has linked fracking wells to an unprecedented increase in powerful earthquakes across the South and Midwest. U.S. government geologists now say that Oklahoma suffers more earthquakes than California, due entirely to fracking and oil and gas wastewater disposal wells.