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Link Between Natural Gas Fields and Health Issues Remains Largely Undocumented

Posted on Oct 1, 2011
Flickr / Gerry Dincher (CC-BY-SA)

Natural gas tanks in Pennsylvania, where the Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling boom began in earnest in 2008.

Last month, the investigative journalism nonprofit ProPublica published a report that highlights how dangerously little scientists and government officials know about the health consequences of living near a natural gas drilling site.

Although the public has long been concerned about the link between health complaints and close proximity to natural gas fields, little or no work has been put into tracking the extent of the problem, much less discovering the true cause of those various health issues.

ProPublica reported that residents living near natural gas wells have commonly complained of respiratory infections, headaches, neurological impairment, nausea and rashes. In more serious cases, miscarriages, poisoning and cancer have been reported. —BF


On a summer evening in June 2005, Susan Wallace-Babb went out into a neighbor’s field near her ranch in Western Colorado to close an irrigation ditch. She parked down the rutted double-track, stepped out of her truck into the low-slung sun, took a deep breath and collapsed, unconscious.

A natural gas well and a pair of fuel storage tanks sat less than a half-mile away. Later, after Wallace-Babb came to and sought answers, a sheriff’s deputy told her that a tank full of gas condensate—liquid hydrocarbons gathered from the production process—had overflowed into another tank. The fumes must have drifted toward the field where she was working, he suggested.

The next morning Wallace-Babb was so sick she could barely move. She vomited uncontrollably and suffered explosive diarrhea. A searing pain shot up her thigh. Within days she developed burning rashes that covered her exposed skin, then lesions. As weeks passed, anytime she went outdoors, her symptoms worsened. Wallace-Babb’s doctor began to suspect she had been poisoned.

“I took to wearing a respirator and swim goggles outside to tend to my animals,” Wallace-Babb said. “I closed up my house and got an air conditioner that would just recycle the air and not let any fresh air in.”

Wallace-Babb’s symptoms mirror those reported by a handful of others living near her ranch in Parachute, Colo., and by dozens of residents of communities across the country that have seen the most extensive natural gas drilling. Hydraulic fracturing, along with other processes used to drill wells, generates emissions and millions of gallons of hazardous waste that are dumped into open-air pits. The pits have been shown to leak into groundwater and also give off chemical emissions as the fluids evaporate. [snip]

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EmileZ's avatar

By EmileZ, October 3, 2011 at 12:04 am Link to this comment


It may be somewhat reminiscent, but it is far more destructive in the long run than anything the tobacco industry could ever do.

Injecting toxic chemicals permanently destroying our groundwater may prove to be far worse for the medium-to-longterm survival of the species than forcing all toddlers to chain smoke.

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anaman51's avatar

By anaman51, October 2, 2011 at 11:26 pm Link to this comment

The companies involved in Fracking know damn well what they’re doing to these people and their land. They’ve known all about it since long before the second Bush White House helped midwife this nasty little invention of the always-greedy oil industry into being. They’ve been knowingly destroying lives and property ever since the start. This is reminiscent of the tobacco industry’s cry of innocence when they were first accused of knowing about the cancer-causing effects of using their products. Hell, the Nazis had known about it before the war—-the greedy lying bastards had to have known.

Yours and my elected officials had already been taken care of with promises of lucrative employment deals after retirement from public office. This had been (and still is) encouraged and reinforced by means of a series of covert transfers involving large paper grocery bags stuffed with rumpled Benjamins. There was to be no problem with swift passage on The Hill; the chute was liberally greased.

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