Fracking and other forms of unconventional well stimulation generate air and water pollutants at every step of the process– before, during, and after fluids are injected to stimulate oil production. These extreme techniques use hundreds of chemicals, including endocrine disrupters, highly corrosive acids, and carcinogens. If these contaminants enter our air, water, soil or food supply during the fracking lifecycle, they can cause serious medical ailments, including infertility, birth defects, severe organ damage, and cancer. This page highlights the key health effects of fracking and the risks to public health.
Out of these 750 known chemicals used in the fracking process, 29 are linked to cancer, as well as gastrointestinal, circulatory, respiratory, developmental, and neurological disorders.1 Research indicates that pregnant women and young children are particularly vulnerable to toxic chemical exposure, which can lead to miscarriage, low birth weight, birth defects, impaired learning and intellectual development, and fertility problems.2
The health effects of well stimulation are even more pronounced around urban oilfields, where oil extraction often takes place in close proximity to vulnerable and low-income communities that already experience a variety of health stressors. Fracking in densely populated communities heightens the public health and environmental effects from combined pollutants and emissions.
More than five million Californians live within a mile of at least one of the more than 84,000 oil and gas wells in California. While no one knows for sure how many of these wells are subjected to fracking or other high intensity techniques, the proximity of these wells to vulnerable Californians is troubling; those living close to oil and gas operations are disproportionately low income and people of color.
Moreover, oil and gas production in California often takes place surprisingly close to schools and the children who attend them. In Los Angeles, 352,724 children go to school within a mile of an oil and gas well. At Least 217 of these wells use fracking, acidization, or other advanced stimulation techniques. Currently, California does not regulate the proximity of oil and gas production, even fracking, to ‘sensitive receptors’ such as schools, hospitals and neighborhoods.
Case Study: AllenCo Energy
In 2010, residents near AllenCo Energy’s West Adams site began experiencing severe health problems including respiratory difficulty, nosebleeds, headaches, and nausea. The site, which is directly adjacent to schools, residences and low-income housing, had been closed for many years but was re-opened when AllenCo began to use the process of acidization to extract the remaining oil. After several years and several hundred complaints to the South Coast Air Quality Management District, Senator Barbara Boxer ordered the federal Environmental Protection Agency to inspect the site. When the regulators visited the site, they immediately fell ill with sore throats, coughing, and prolonged, severe headaches. Their investigation revealed that the site had multiple safety violations and had failed to take adequate steps to prevent the release of hazardous substances.
Residents’ symptoms diminished when AllenCo temporarily halted all operations in November of 2013 to make repairs to the site. As of March, 2014, the site is under investigation for health violations by the EPA, the SCAQMD, the City Attorney, and the State Department of Health. Read more about urban well stimulation.