In North Dakota and Nationwide, A Boom in Health Problems Accompanies Fracking

In North Dakota and Nationwide, A Boom in Health Problems Accompanies Fracking by Nicholas Kusnetz, May 21, 2012, OnEarth
Soon after, the water from a well they used for their animals started bubbling, “like 7UP.” Then the creek behind the house started bubbling, too, with a frothy film forming on the water’s surface and white residue appearing on the creek bank. The Schilkes started hauling water in from town. … There are now dozens of wells in the area, including four within a mile of their home, each sporting gas flares billowing smoke into the sky. … The resource is worth $55 million a day, at current market prices, and generates $5 million a day in state tax revenue, according to state officials. … In 2009, state officials told the local press that the new oil development appeared to be releasing far more chemicals into the air than conventional drilling. … Although a handful of North Dakota residents have complained about odors or health effects from drilling near their homes, the Schilkes are the first in the region to report such widespread and sustained health problems. But while their symptoms may be new to North Dakota, they mirror those reported in recent years in gas fields from the Rockies to the Appalachians. Residents of several states have experienced a suite of symptoms – including rashes, congestion, dizziness, nausea, and even cancer — that they say began when drilling and fracking came to their neighborhoods. … In acknowledgement of the risks, the EPA issued new rules this month aimed at reducing airborne emissions from fracking operations. But an EPA spokesperson told OnEarth that the rules apply only to gas wells, so they won’t affect operations at North Dakota’s oil wells — even though they produce similar emissions to natural-gas fracking. On the whole, state and federal agencies have been slow to respond to the growing concerns about public health, says Bernard Goldstein, professor emeritus at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Public Health, who notes that these agencies haven’t done the research needed to ensure that shale drilling is safe to nearby residents. Goldstein published a paper in January arguing that public health officials are being left out of the debate over how to regulate drilling, despite evidence of an emerging and indeterminate threat. “Can I point to a specific disease that has been caused by the shale drilling? No I cannot,” he says. But that’s in part because no state or federal agency has been systematically tracking drilling-related health complaints…

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