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Fracking 'Almanac' Compiles Health Risks From the Drilling Practice

Of the more than 1,000 studies on fracking, 85 percent show the extraction process is harming nearby communities. (Tim Evanson/Flickr)
Of the more than 1,000 studies on fracking, 85 percent show the extraction process is harming nearby communities. (Tim Evanson/Flickr)
March 15, 2018

BISMARCK, N.D. — Health professionals have released their fifth compilation of data and reports showing the risks of fracking. Over the past five editions, scientific and medical findings in the compendium have grown, adding weight to the argument that oil and gas drilling are harmful to communities.

One of the authors of the report, Sandra Steingraber, is a biologist and co-founder of Concerned Health Professionals of New York. She said people near fracking sites face the same kind of health risks, whether they're in Texas, Pennsylvania or North Dakota.

"We see signs of respiratory distress among people living close to drilling and fracking sites,” Steingraber said. “Most alarming to us, we see signs of impaired development among newborns born to pregnant women whose residences are close to drilling and fracking sites during their pregnancies."

Steingraber said there are increased rates of illness and cancer near fracking sites, and there are greater risks in the air and water. Radioactive waste also is a concern.

She said there are more than 1,000 studies on fracking and 85 percent show the practice is harmful. The American Petroleum Institute disputes these reports, saying fracking is safe and also provides economic benefits to communities.

But the compendium found that work in this sector is dangerous, with four to seven times the number of on-the-job fatalities compared with the national average. It's even more dangerous in North Dakota, where fatality rates are seven times the average for the rest of the industry.

Steingraber said economic gains for towns and cities usually are temporary because fracking wells don't have long lifespans. She added that the man camps set up for operations fracture family structures and also harm nearby communities.

"We see signs of increased sex trafficking, increased drugs, violent victimization, traffic fatalities go up, and so on,” she said. “And so, particularly for women's health and safety, it really takes a hit when fracking companies come into town."

Steingraber said the country is moving in the wrong direction at the federal level, citing the Trump administration's energy-dominance policy, which has opened up public lands to oil and gas extraction. However, three states have banned fracking within their borders.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ND