• What are the Dangers of Fracking?

Health & Safety

What are the Dangers of Fracking?

Oct 05 2014

The energy debate shows no signs of slowing. Uncertainty about supply, prices and the environment are all valid reasons to be discussing the future of energy; and one of the most hotly debated subjects right now is the issue of fracking. 

Fracking is used extensively in the United States to extract hard-to-reach reserves of gas and oil. After being banned and then reinstated in the UK, it’s now firmly back on the agenda - along with some fierce opposition from politicians, communities and campaigners. But how seriously should the concerns be taken? And what are the dangers of fracking?

A risk to human health

Fracking has been linked to deteriorating health in humans. Most directly affected are workers at fracking sites - they are exposed to Crystalline Silica which can cause a debilitating and sometimes fatal respiratory illness, known as silicosis. Crystalline Silica is looked at in more detail in this article: What is Crystalline Silica? And What Are the Associated Hazards?

‘Safe’ exposure limits to Crystalline Silica have frequently been exceeded and if fracking becomes a fact of life in the UK, comprehensive air and dust monitoring programmes to protect workers should be high on the UK Occupational Hygiene agenda, says Neal Hill, the Product Line Manager at Casella. This is discussed further in this article: Protecting Employee Health During Fracking.

Research also suggests that there is a health risk to communities surrounding a fracking well. One study linked proximity to fracking sites with an increased risk of low birth weight in newborn infants, while scientists warn that the chemicals used during the fracking process may cause infertility or cancer, if they infiltrate water supplies.

Acceleration of global warming

The issue of climate change is never far away, especially when discussing energy. Across the world, governments are now tasked with meeting renewable energy targets to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. But what about methane; a gas that - over a 20 year period - is 86 times more harmful than CO2?

The fracking process releases methane into the atmosphere. Methane leaks should always be monitored and controlled, but in the United States the Environmental Protection Agency has been criticised for underestimating the impact. There are calls for tighter controls and regulations - ensuring that equipment is used to limit the exposure of methane.

Triggering earthquakes

Fracking was originally banned in the UK because a Cuadrilla drilling site in Blackpool triggered two tremors, measuring 2.3 and 1.5 on the Richter Scale. Research has generally concluded that the injection of ‘fracking fluid’ deep into the earth can cause man-made earthquakes, although the exact conditions required to start a tremor are unclear.

Most experts agree that any earthquake triggered by fracking would be highly unlikely to cause structural damage or threaten lives, which is why the UK decided to overturn the fracking ban in 2012.

We’re all familiar with earthquakes as a natural phenomenon. But what about those that are man-made? What exactly is a man-made earthquake?

What happens now?

As for the future; there are calls for tighter controls and regulations around fracking - while many want to see the ban reinstated in the UK. Over time, further research and studies will reveal more information about the dangers. But countries such as France and Belgium are not running the risk - for now, their governments have outlawed fracking entirely.

Is fracking the way forward? We discuss this topic further in an interview with Chris Faulkner, CEO of the Breitling Energy Corporation, a man known internationally as the ‘Frack Master’ due to his outspoken advocacy of shale gas extraction and in depth-knowledge of the process.

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