Opponents of “fracking” and those concerned over the health effects of hydraulic fracturing water contamination and similar issues are applauding a decision by the administration of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to ban fracking in the state of New York. At a press conference December 17, Cuomo noted that potential health issues and risks to the environment stemming from a state review were too compelling to ignore.
Hydraulic fracking is a process characterized by the forced injection of water and chemicals under high pressure underground. The process is designed to fracture underground shale and allow trapped gas reserves to release to the surface. Fracking – which the oil and gas industry maintains has been around for some 60 years – has been touted as the next frontier in the exploration and acquisition of new gas reserves. Fracking is currently allowed in New Jersey as Governor Christie vetoed a bill in August which would have banned the dumping of fracking waste in the state.
The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences has now released a study, published in Environmental Health Perspectives, that examines the proximity to natural gas wells and reported health problems. The study involved a survey of 492 people who lived in 180 randomly selected households. The households all had ground-fed wells and were within proximity of active natural gas drilling. Researchers then studied the relationship between proximity to the gas well and the reporting of various health issues, including “dermal, respiratory, gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, and neurological symptoms.”
Researchers found that the number of overall reported health symptoms per respondent was higher among people who lived within one kilometer of the drilling than those who lived two or more kilometers from it. Even when other factors such as age, smoking and work type were excluded, the number of reported skin conditions and the number of upper respiratory symptoms was higher in people who lived in closer proximity to the well. There was no correlation found between other respiratory, neurological, cardiovascular or gastrointestinal conditions.
The study’s authors noted that the results are only intended to generate hypotheses and the study was limited to households with a ground-fed water supply. They concluded that “proximity of natural gas wells may be associated with the prevalence of health symptoms including dermal and respiratory conditions in residents living near natural gas extraction activities.”
Among the reported skin conditions were rashes, dermatitis, irritation, burning and itching. Among the upper respiratory issues reported were allergies/sinus problems/itchy eyes, nose bleeds, stuffy nose and cough/sore throat.
The New York statewide ban is expected to be finalized in 2015.
Cuomo said at the year-end press conference that he expects a litany of lawsuits coming from oil and gas interests, and that the fight is far from over.