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Many of the toxic vapours released during drilling and fracking are not immediately obvious to the person breathing them in. Methane is an odourless and colourless gas. Children are particularly at risk from the toxicity from VOC’s – Volatile Organic Compounds.

October 30, 2014 – A research team assembled by University at Albany Institute for Health and the Environment identified eight highly toxic chemicals in air samples collected near fracking and associated infrastructure sites across five states: Arkansas, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Wyoming. The most common airborne chemicals detected included two proven human carcinogens (benzene and formaldehyde) and two potent neurotoxicants (hexane and hydrogen sulfide). In 29 out of 76 samples, concentrations far exceeded federal health and safety standards, sometimes by several orders of magnitude. Further, high levels of pollutants were detected at distances exceeding legal setback distances from wellheads to homes. Highly elevated levels of formaldehyde, for example, were found up to a half-mile from a wellhead. In Arkansas, seven air samples contained formaldehyde at levels up to 60 times the level known to raise the risk for cancer.5 said lead author David O. Carpenter, MD, in an accompanying interview, “ Cancer has a long latency. So you’re not seeing an elevation in cancer in these communities. But five, 10, 15 years from now, elevation in cancer is almost certain to happen.”

This discusses measurement of dangerous gases in the air near to and at a distance from fracking wells. They are capable of causing a risk to the workers as well as the residents who may live in the vicinity. Risks include damage to brain and nerves and later developing cancers, The effect on livestock is not clear but likely to be significant.

October 21, 2014 – Using a mobile laboratory designed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a research team from the University of Colorado at Boulder, the NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory, and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology looked at air pollution from drilling and fracking operations in Utah’s Uintah Basin. The researchers found that drilling and fracking emit prodigious amounts of volatile organic air pollutants, including benzene, toluene, and methane, all of which are precursors for ground-level ozone (smog). Multiple pieces of equipment on and off the well pad, including condensate tanks, compressors, dehydrators, and pumps, served as the sources of these emissions. This research shows that drilling and fracking activities are the cause of the extraordinarily high levels of winter smog in the remote Uintah basin— which regularly exceed air quality standards and rival that of downtown Los Angeles.8

Gases rise in the air so researchers flew over a fracking area and sampled the gases. They found high levels of several gasses many times higher than estimated previously. They cause a rise in low level ozone which leads to smog. Despite being a remote area they found smog levels more familiar in central Los Angeles.

Extract from Durham University paper on well leaks identifying methane as being many times greater problem with regards to global warming. Academy of Engineering Report (2012); Jackson et al., 2013; King and King, 2013). In addition to protecting ground and surface waters, effective well sealing prevents leakage of methane and other gases into the atmosphere. This is important as methane is 86 times more effective than CO2 at trapping heat in the atmosphere over a 20-year period and 34 times more effective over a century (IPCC, 2013). Well barrier and integrity failures can occur during drilling, production, or after abandonment; in rare examples, including in the USA, well leakage has led to explosions at the Earth’s surface (e.g. Miyazaki, 2009).


The numbers we have come across vary – here methane has a range between 86 times and 34 times more powerful  than CO2.

September 2014 – ShaleTest Environmental Testing conducted ambient air quality tests and gas-finder infra-red video for several children’s play areas in North Texas that are located in close proximity to shale gas development. The results showed a large number of compounds detected above the Method Reporting Limit (the minimum quantity of the compound that can be confidently determined by the laboratory). Air sampling found three known/suspected carcinogens, and a number of other compounds associated with significant health effects. Benzene results from Denton, Dish, and Fort Worth are particularly alarming since they exceeded the long-term ambient air limits set by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, and benzene is a known carcinogen. “Benzene was found at all but one sampling location …. This is particularly noteworthy as benzene is a known carcinogen (based on evidence from studies in both people and lab animals), AND because it exceeds both the TCEQ ESL and AMCV.”

Source (PDF)
Children are particularly susceptible to the inhalation of these compounds. The levels in children’s play areas were above the maximum permissible. The presence of benzene is of particular concern as there is no safe level and it can cause cancers in later life.

May 8, 2014 – Researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found high levels of methane leaks as well as benzene and smog-forming volatile organic compounds in the air over oil and gas drilling areas in Colorado. Researchers found methane emissions three times higher than previously estimated and benzene and volatile organic compound levels seven times higher than estimated by government agencies. The Denver Post noted that Colorado’s Front Range has failed to meet federal ozone air quality standards for years.

Much higher levels of pollution are detected from flying over Colarado than the government agencies thought existed. The remote and rural state of Colorado has failed to meet air quality standards for years.

April 26, 2014 – A Texas jury awarded a family $2.8 million because, according to the lawsuit, a fracking company operating on property nearby had “created a ‘private nuisance’ by producing harmful air pollution and exposing [members of the affected family] to harmful emissions of volatile organic compounds, toxic air pollutants and diesel exhaust.” The family’s 11-year-old daughter became ill, and family members suffered a range of symptoms, including “nosebleeds, vision problems, nausea, rashes, blood pressure issues.” Because drilling did not occur on their property, the family had initially been unaware that their symptoms were caused by activities around them.


A large fine imposed by a court reflecting the pollution from fracking The judge noted the lack of awareness of the presence of and risk from the pollution. Important as it links the pollution with illness particularly in a child.

March 13, 2014 – Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted in Utah’s heavily drilled Uintah Basin led to 39 winter days exceeding the EPA’s eight-hour National Ambient Air Quality Standards level for ozone pollutants the previous winter. “Levels above this threshold are considered to be harmful to human health, and high levels of ozone are known to cause respiratory distress and be responsible for an estimated 5,000 premature deaths in the U.S. per year,” according to researchers at the University of Colorado. Their observations “reveal a strong causal link between oil and gas emissions, accumulation of air toxics, and significant production of ozone in the atmospheric surface layer.” Researchers estimated that total annual VOC emissions at the fracking sites are equivalent to those of about 100 million cars.



This relates the very high levels of gases caused by fracking and the risk to humans. Yearly gas releases in Utah, equivalent to about 100 million cars. Benzene, VOC’s and ozone were particularly concern.
April 14, 2014 – A study from researchers at Purdue University, NOAA, Cornell University, University of Colorado at Boulder and Pennsylvania State University, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found very high levels of methane emissions above many wells being drilled at fracking sites in Pennsylvania. Levels were 100 to 1,000 times above the estimates of federal regulators, who have always assumed very low methane emissions as wells are drilled.


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