Study: New Analysis Reveals that Majority of Peer-Reviewed Science Show Health and Environmental Concerns from Fracking and Unconventional Gas Development

Contact:         Daisy Pistey-Lyhne

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New Analysis Reveals that Majority of Peer-Reviewed Science Shows Health and Environmental Concerns from Fracking

Oakland, California (April 20, 2016) – A new analysis from PSE Healthy Energy shows that a clearer scientific understanding of the public health and environmental impacts of modern natural gas development is beginning to emerge from the hundreds of scientific studies conducted in recent years.


Peer-reviewed publication available here

Descriptive infographic available for download here


A paper published in the open access peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE analyzes the body of scientific literature published from 2009-2015. It reports that the weight of the evidence indicates that hazards and elevated risks to human health, as well as possible adverse health outcomes, are associated with unconventional natural gas development (UNGD), commonly referred to as fracking. UNGD includes hydraulic fracturing and also its related practices and infrastructure, such as directional drilling, compressor stations, and wastewater disposal.


The paper lays out clear criteria for determining whether studies show meaningful concerns for human health, air quality, and water quality concerns from UNGD. For each category, it found that the significant majority of original research indicates hazards, elevated risks, or potential impacts from UNGD.


Of this research, 84% of public health studies contain findings that indicate public health hazards, elevated risks, or adverse health outcomes. 69% of water quality studies contain findings that indicate potential or actual incidence of water contamination. And 87% of air quality studies contain findings that indicate elevated air pollutant emissions and/or atmospheric concentrations. These results indicate that UNGD is likely to contribute to environmental public health burdens, which is consistent with numerous scientific review articles and government reports.


Dr. Seth Shonkoff, co-author and Executive Director of PSE Healthy Energy, had this to say about the study: "From an epidemiological perspective, it is difficult to draw conclusions about the magnitude of health impacts attributable to shale gas development. However, the bulk of the peer-reviewed science clearly suggests that it contributes to environmental public health hazards and risks."


A clearer scientific understanding of the public health and environmental impacts of fracking has only started to emerge in recent years as more research has been conducted to determine the possible impacts, prompted by concerns from nearby residents and decision makers across the country during the recent boom in shale and tight gas development.


To explain just how nascent the majority of the science is, more than 80% of the peer reviewed scientific literature on shale and tight gas development had been published since the beginning of January 2013. Consequently, the scientific community is only now coming to understand the weight of environmental and public health implications of UNGD.


"Our paper provides a simple, intuitive approach to understanding the science on shale gas development. It can be used as a starting point for identifying emerging themes, as well as what the majority of the research tells us about potential threats to water, air, and public health," said Jake Hays, lead author and Director of the Environmental Health Program at PSE Healthy Energy.


This assessment was conducted using the PSE Database on Shale and Tight Gas Development and referred to herein as the PSE Database). This near exhaustive collection of peer-reviewed scientific literature on the impacts of UNGD has been used and reviewed by academics, experts, and government officials throughout the United States and internationally and has been subjected to public and professional scrutiny before and after this assessment.


Despite the recent surge in scientific literature, many data gaps still exist. One theme that continually emerged in the analysis was a recommendation for additional empirical investigations to better understand the risks to water, air, and public health presented by UNGD. Notably, while there is now a far more substantive body of science than there was several years ago, there is still only a limited amount of research that explores associations between risk factors and health outcomes in human populations.


While responsible energy policies must take into account more than just empirical data, legislative and regulatory activities will benefit from this understanding of the emerging body of science on the environmental and public health implications of UNGD. This assessment can be viewed as a summary of the peer-reviewed literature in order to help facilitate research efforts and inform policy at the federal, state, and local levels.


This work can be used to identify themes that lie in or across studies, to prioritize future research, and to provide an empirical foundation for policy decisions which, until somewhat recently, did not have much science on which to rely. 


PSE Healthy Energy is a non-profit energy science and policy research institute dedicated to supplying evidence-based, scientific and technical information and resources on the public health, environmental and climate dimensions of energy production and use. Our work predominantly focuses on unconventional oil and gas development, renewable energy, and energy storage.


The mission of PSE Healthy Energy is to bring scientific transparency and clarity to energy policy discussions, helping to level the playing field for citizens, advocacy groups, the media, agency staff, and elected officials by generating, translating, and disseminating scientific information. No other interdisciplinary collaboration of physicians, scientists, and engineers exists to focus specifically on health and sustainability at the intersection of energy science and policy.



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