The US Natural Resources Defense Council's 2014 analysis of scientific studies of the health impacts of fracking shows the evidence of harm to people's health is mounting. Oil and gas drilling is exposing people to serious fracking-related health impacts including respiratory and nervous system problems, birth defects, blood disorders and cancer. Senior NRDC scientist Miriam Rotkin-Ellman says:

The health risks from fracking are not limited to what's in our drinking water—oil and gas operations are also poisoning the air we breathe. While industry continues to try to sweep the impacts of fracking under a rug, the science keeps revealing serious health threats—for workers, families living nearby and entire regions with heavy oil and gas activity.

The AMA reports that doctors in Queensland suspect their patients living near gasfields are showing symptoms of gas exposure. In February 2015, after hearing first-hand from families affected by the gasfields proliferating in their communities, Senator Glenn Lazarus called for a Royal Commission into the human impact of mining, particularly unconventional mining, on Queenslanders saying:

Landowners have lost all rights to say no to mining on their property. Water is being contaminated. Groundwater levels and bores are drying up, the land is dying and people are getting sick. There are suggestions by experts that fracking is causing earthquakes and serious geological disturbances in addition to other forms of environmental devastation.

You can follow the progress of Sen Lazarus' call for a Royal Commission and sign his petition on change.org.

Evidence of Harm

Communities living near gasfields in the US have had a longer history of exposure to fracking and its associated chemicals and contaminants than families in Australia where fracking is occurring. The experiences of US families have been documented for almost two decades. The health affects these families report range from serious skin, nose, throat and eye irritations and respiratory ailments to neurological illnesses.

Infra-Red Image Of Fumes from Condensate Tanks. Barnett Shale, TexasWhen the US health and regulatory authorities discounted and dismissed their complaints an online register, The List of The Harmed was set up to document the health, social and financial effects of living near fracking sites on individual families.

The Center for Environmental Health report, Toxic & Dirty Secrets: The truth about fracking and your family's health also provides research that could be helpful for families and communities who are concerned about the health effects of fracking, and for politicians and decision-makers who support fracking near residential areas.

Chemical Exposure

Human exposure to fracking chemicals can occur by ingesting chemicals that have spilled and entered drinking water sources, through direct skin contact with the chemicals or wastes (e.g., by workers, spill responders or health care professionals), or by breathing in vapours from flowback wastes stored in pits or tanks.

A 2010 study summarised health effect information for 353 (of the over 700) chemicals used in fracking wells in the US. Health effects were broken into 12 categories:

  • Cancer warning fracking siteSkin, eye and sensory organs
  • Respiratory
  • Gastrointestinal and liver
  • Brain and nervous system
  • Immune system
  • Kidneys
  • Cancer
  • Mutagenic
  • Cardiovascular and blood
  • Endocrine disruption
  • Ecological effects
  • Other

More than 75% of the chemicals can affect the skin, eyes and other sensory organs, and the respiratory and gastrointestinal systems. Around half could affect the brain, nervous system, immune and cardiovascular systems, and the kidneys. Over a third could affect the endocrine system and one quarter could cause cancer and mutations.

Frack trucks wait near Cochrane, Alberta

Fracking Chemicals with 10 or More Health Effects

This is a list of chemicals used in US fracking operations that have the potential to cause ten or more adverse health effects. Only some of the chemicals are approved for use in Australia, however, the list is telling when viewed in the context of what oil and gas companies are prepared to use to extract gas.

  • 2,2',2"-Nitrilotriethanol
  • 2-Ethylhexanol
  • 5-Chloro-2-methyl-4-isothiazolin-3-one
  • Acetic acid
  • Acrolein
  • Acrylamide (2-propenamide)
  • Acrylic acid
  • Ammonia
  • Ammonium chloride
  • Ammonium nitrate
  • Aniline
  • Benzyl chloride
  • Boric acid
  • Cadmium
  • Calcium hypochlorite
  • Chlorine
  • Chlorine dioxide
  • Dibromoacetonitrile 1
  • Diethanolamine
  • Diethylenetriamine
  • Dimethyl formamide
  • Epidian
  • Ethanol (acetylenic alcohol)
  • Ethyl mercaptan
  • Ethylbenzene
  • Ethylene glycol
  • Ethylene glycol monobutyl ether (2-BE)
  • Ethylene oxide
  • Ferrous sulphate
  • Formaldehyde
  • Formic acid
  • Glutaraldehyde
  • Glyoxal
  • Hydrogen sulphide
  • Iron
  • Isobutyl alcohol (2-methyl-1-propanol)
  • Isopropanol (propan-2-ol)
  • Light naphthenic distillates, hydrotreated
  • Mercaptoacidic acid
  • Methanol
  • Methylene bis(thiocyanate)
  • Monoethanolamine
  • NaHCO3
  • Naphtha, petroleum medium aliphatic
  • Naphthalene
  • Natural gas condensates
  • Nickel sulphate
  • Paraformaldehyde
  • Phosphonium, tetrakis (hydroxymethyl)-sulfate
  • Propane-1,2-diol
  • Sodium bromated
  • Sodium chlorite (chlorous acid, sodium salt)
  • Sodium hypochlorite
  • Sodium nitrate
  • Sodium nitrite
  • Sodium sulphite
  • Styrene
  • Sulfur dioxide
  • Sulfuric acid
  • Tetrahydro-3,5-dimethyl-2H-1,3,5-thiadiazine-2-thione (Dazomet)
  • Titanium dioxide
  • Tributyl phosphate
  • Triethylene glycol
  • Urea
  • Xylen