COMMENTARY: The Public Health Hazards of Fracking

  • Wednesday, January 24, 2018 2:04pm
  • Opinion
Wendy Noble (Courtesy Photo)

Wendy Noble (Courtesy Photo)

Puget Sound Energy (PSE) proposes to transition from coal to gas, citing gas as a healthier and cleaner alternative for both the environment and public health. It is not. The danger to health caused by the practice of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” is alarming.

Large epidemiological studies by universities, including Duke, Johns Hopkins and Columbia, have focused on the health concerns related to fracking. Communities near these sites are reporting increases in the incidence and severity of asthma in both adults and children. Carcinogenic benzene, arsenic, hydrocarbons, endocrine disrupting chemicals and heavy metals have been found in both ground and surface water at these sites. In addition to headache, dizziness, disorientation, ear nose and throat symptoms and seizures, these chemicals can affect blood and bone marrow leading to anemia and immunosuppression. Some communities near fracking sites are reporting increasing numbers of premature births and high-risk pregnancies. Long-term neurologic and neurodevelopmental impact on infants and children is of special concern. Exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals can alter developmental pathways in ways that may not be evident for decades or generations.

Fracking emits massive amounts of methane, a gas that contributes much more significantly to global warming than carbon dioxide and is extremely flammable. It can seep into drinking water sources, causing blowback explosions as well as flammable downstream water.

There is disagreement between the scientific community and the gas industry about whether gas is indeed a “cleaner” alternative to coal in terms of environmental impact. However, there is growing evidence that the extraction of gas is having significant negative health impact on surrounding communities. Unfortunately a federal law exempted the fracking industry from compliance with the Underground Injection Control provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 exempted fluids and chemicals used in fracking from protections under the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Act and the Superfund. The companies that extract natural gas by fracking are not required to disclose the chemicals used; thus it is difficult to assess the short and long-term impact on public health.

Given the growing evidence of the public health risks associated with fracking, it is unacceptable to continue to present gas as a “healthier” alternative to coal. We urge PSE to reconsider their plan to rely increasingly on gas and to refocus their efforts on increasing use of renewable energy sources with minimal disruption to climate, air and water quality and human health.

We have an opportunity to voice our concerns about PSE’s reliance on fossil fuels to the commissioners who regulate the plans for utility companies. Please submit a public comment to the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (WUTC) at The deadline for comments is Jan. 19.

Choose “I’ll send the pre-written letter” if you only have a minute. It’s easy; you don’t have to be a registered voter, and there are no age restrictions. To personalize your letter, select “I’ll write my own letter.” You will be directed to sample letters and recommended talking points. Or submit letters by email to, or by mail to WUTC, PO BOX 47250, Olympia WA 98504-7250. Make sure to include “Docket numbers UE-160918 and UG-160919” in the email or letter title, your name, email address, phone number and your mailing address. Email us at for more information.

— Wendy Noble is an island family nurse practitioner, who views environmental issues as public health concerns.

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