Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Show Summary Details
More options …

Reviews on Environmental Health

Editor-in-Chief: Carpenter, David O. / Sly, Peter

Editorial Board: Brugge, Doug / Edwards, John W. / Field, R.William / Garbisu, Carlos / Hales, Simon / Horowitz, Michal / Lawrence, Roderick / Maibach, H.I. / Shaw, Susan / Tao, Shu / Tchounwou, Paul B.

IMPACT FACTOR 2018: 1.616

CiteScore 2018: 1.69

SCImago Journal Rank (SJR) 2018: 0.508
Source Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP) 2018: 0.664

See all formats and pricing
More options …
Volume 31, Issue 1


Hydraulic fracturing for natural gas: impact on health and environment

David O. Carpenter
Published Online: 2016-03-04 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/reveh-2015-0055


Shale deposits exist in many parts of the world and contain relatively large amounts of natural gas and oil. Recent technological developments in the process of horizontal hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracturing or fracking) have suddenly made it economically feasible to extract natural gas from shale. While natural gas is a much cleaner burning fuel than coal, there are a number of significant threats to human health from the extraction process as currently practiced. There are immediate threats to health resulting from air pollution from volatile organic compounds, which contain carcinogens such as benzene and ethyl-benzene, and which have adverse neurologic and respiratory effects. Hydrogen sulfide, a component of natural gas, is a potent neuro- and respiratory toxin. In addition, levels of formaldehyde are elevated around fracking sites due to truck traffic and conversion of methane to formaldehyde by sunlight. There are major concerns about water contamination because the chemicals used can get into both ground and surface water. Much of the produced water (up to 40% of what is injected) comes back out of the gas well with significant radioactivity because radium in subsurface rock is relatively water soluble. There are significant long-term threats beyond cancer, including exacerbation of climate change due to the release of methane into the atmosphere, and increased earthquake activity due to disruption of subsurface tectonic plates. While fracking for natural gas has significant economic benefits, and while natural gas is theoretically a better fossil fuel as compared to coal and oil, current fracking practices pose significant adverse health effects to workers and near-by residents. The health of the public should not be compromized simply for the economic benefits to the industry.

Keywords: benzene; cancer; fracking; methane; respiratory diseases; shale


  • 1.

    Peduzzi P, Harding R. Gas fracking: can we safely squeeze the rocks? Environ Develop 2013;6:86–99.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • 2.

    United States Energy Information Administration. Technically recoverable shale oil and shale gas resources: an assessment of 137 shale formations in 41 countries outside the United States. Available at: http://www.eia.gov/analysis/studies/worldshalegas/.

  • 3.

    Gallegos TJ, Varela BA. Trends in hydraulic fracturing distributions and treatment fluids, additives, proppants, and water volumes applied to wells drilled in the United States from 1947 through 2010: data analysis and comparison to the literature (USGS Numbered Series No. 2014-5131), Scientific Investigations Report. U.S. Geological Survey, Reston, VA 2015.Google Scholar

  • 4.

    Rozell DJ, Reaven SJ. Water pollution risk associated with natural gas extraction from the Marcellus Shale. Risk Anal 2012;32:1382–93.CrossrefWeb of ScienceGoogle Scholar

  • 5.

    Warner NR, Christie CA, Jackson RB, Vengosh A. Impacts of shale gas wastewater disposal on water quality in western Pennsylvania. Environ Sci Technol 2014;47:11849–57.CrossrefWeb of ScienceGoogle Scholar

  • 6.

    Osborn SG, Vengosh A, Warner NR, Jackson RB. Methane contamination of drinking water accompanying gas-well drilling and hydraulic fracturing. Proc Natl Acad Sci 2011;108:8172–6.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • 7.

    Rowan EL, Engle MA, Kirby CS, Kraemer TF. Radium content of oil- and gas-field produced waters in the northern Appalachian Basin (USA) – Summary and discussion of data. U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2011-5135 2011. Available at: http://pubs.usgs.gov/sir/2011/5135/.

  • 8.

    Rowan EL, Kraemer TF. Radon-222 content of natural gas samples from upper and middle devonian sandstone and shale reservoirs in Pennsylvania: preliminary dat. U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2012–1159 2012. Available at: http://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2012/1159.

  • 9.

    Keranen KM, Weingarten M, Abers GA, Bekins BA, Ge S. Sharp increase in central Oklahoma seismicity since 2008 induced by massive wastewater injection. Science 2014;345:448–51.Web of ScienceCrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • 10.

    Field RA, Soltis J, Murphy S. Air quality concerns of unconventional oil and natural gas production. Environ Sci Process Impacts 2014;16:954–69.Web of ScienceCrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • 11.

    Gilman JB, Lerner BM, Kuster WC, de Gouw JA. Source signature of volatile organic compounds from oil and natural gas operations in northeastern Colorado. Environ Sci Technol 2013;47:1297–305.CrossrefWeb of ScienceGoogle Scholar

  • 12.

    Macey GP, Breech R, Chernaik M, Cox C, Larson D, et al. Air concentrations of volatile compounds near oil and gas production: a community-based exploratory study. Environ Health 2014;13:82.Web of ScienceCrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • 13.

    Paulik LB, Donald CE, Smith BW, Tidwell LG, Hobbie KA, et al. Impact of natural gas extraction on PAH levels in ambient air. Environ Sci Technol 2015;49:5203–10.Web of ScienceCrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • 14.

    Colborn T, Kwiatkowski C, Schultz K, Bachran M. Natural gas operations from a public health perspective. Human Ecol Risk Assess 2011;17:1039–56.Google Scholar

  • 15.

    McKenzie LM, Guo R, Witter RZ, Savitz DA, Newman LS, et al. Birth outcomes and maternal residential proximity to natural gas development in rural Colorado. Environ Health Perspect 2014;122:412–7.Web of ScienceGoogle Scholar

  • 16.

    Samoli E, Nastos PT, Paliatsos AG, Katsouyanni K, Priftis KN. Acute effects of air pollution on pediatric asthma exacerbation: evidence of association and effect modification. Environ Red 2011;111:418–24.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • 17.

    Brook RD, Rajagopalan S, Pope A III, Brook JR, Bhatnagar A, et al. Particulate matter air pollution and cardiovascular disease: an update to the scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation 2010;121:2331–78.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • 18.

    Verberk MM, van der Hoek JAF, van Valen E, Wekking EM, van Hout MSE, et al. Decision rules for assessment of chronic solvent-induced encephalopathy: results in 2370 patients. NeuroToxicol 2012;33:742–2.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • 19.

    Bamberger M, Oswald RE. Unconventional oil and gas extraction and animal health. Environ Sci Process Impact 2014;16:1860–5.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • 20.

    Earthworks. Gas patch roulette: how shale gas development risks public health in Pennsylvania. Available at: https://www.earthworksaction.org/files/publications/Health-Report-Full-FINAL-sm.pdf.

  • 21.

    Center for Environmental Health. Toxic and dirty secrets: the truth about fracking and your family’s health. Available at: http://www.ceh.org/legacy/storage/documents/Fracking/fracking_final-low-1.pdf.

  • 22.

    Howarth RW. A bridge to nowhere: methane emissions and the greenhouse gas footprint of natural gas. Energy Sci Eng 2014;2:47–60.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • 23.

    Hultman N, Rebois D, Scholten M, Ramig C. The greenhouse impact of unconventional gas for electricity generation. Environ Res Lett 2011;6:049504.Web of ScienceCrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • 24.

    Alvarez RA, Pacala SW, Winebrake JJ, Chameides WL, Hamburg SP. Greater focus needed on methane leakage from natural gas infrastructure. Proc Natl Acad Sci 2012;109:6435–40.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • 25.

    Esswein EJ, Breitenstein M, Snawder J, Kiefer M, Sieber WK. Occupational exposures to respirable crystalline silica during hydraulic fracturing. J Occup Environ Hyg 2013;10(7):347–56.CrossrefWeb of ScienceGoogle Scholar

About the article

Corresponding author: David O. Carpenter, MD, Institute for Health and the Environment, University at Albany, Rensselaer, NY 12144, USA, E-mail:

Received: 2015-10-16

Accepted: 2015-12-14

Published Online: 2016-03-04

Published in Print: 2016-03-01

Citation Information: Reviews on Environmental Health, Volume 31, Issue 1, Pages 47–51, ISSN (Online) 2191-0308, ISSN (Print) 0048-7554, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/reveh-2015-0055.

Export Citation

©2016 by De Gruyter.Get Permission

Citing Articles

Here you can find all Crossref-listed publications in which this article is cited. If you would like to receive automatic email messages as soon as this article is cited in other publications, simply activate the “Citation Alert” on the top of this page.

Anna L. Lang, Austin M. Krueger, Regina D. Schnegelberger, Brenna R. Kaelin, Maxwell J. Rakutt, Liya Chen, Gavin E. Arteel, and Juliane I. Beier
Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology, 2019, Page 114745
Liya Chen, Anna L. Lang, Gavin D. Poff, Wen-Xing Ding, and Juliane I. Beier
Redox Biology, 2019, Volume 24, Page 101205
Jacques Robert, Connor C. McGuire, Susan Nagel, B. Paige Lawrence, and Francisco De Jesús Andino
Science of The Total Environment, 2019, Volume 671, Page 644
Patrick C. Ng, Tara B. Hendry-Hofer, Norma Garrett, Matthew Brenner, Sari B. Mahon, Joseph K. Maddry, Philippe Haouzi, Gerry R. Boss, Thomas F. Gibbons, Allyson A. Araña, and Vikhyat S. Bebarta
Clinical Toxicology, 2018, Page 1
Trinidad Beleche and Inna Cintina
Economics & Human Biology, 2018
Jacques Robert, Connor C McGuire, Fayth Kim, Susan C Nagel, Stephen J Price, B Paige Lawrence, and Francisco De Jesús Andino
Toxicological Sciences, 2018
Nicole C. Deziel, Zoe Humeau, Elise G. Elliott, Joshua L. Warren, Linda M. Niccolai, and Jaymie Meliker
PLOS ONE, 2018, Volume 13, Number 3, Page e0194203

Comments (0)

Please log in or register to comment.
Log in