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If You Read Only One Story on Health and Fracking, Read This One

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Anti-fracking activitists pose with "fracking flavoured" water outside the European Parliament. Image from Greensefa via Flickr, used with a Creative Commons Attribution License.
Credit C European Union 2012


If you live right next to a drilling rig, or your kids go to school beside a fracking site, or your county is suddenly littered with well pads  -- are there health risks? That's a question that's been asked from Pennsylvania to North Dakota, from Colorado to Texas as more and more people find themselves and their towns in the midst of an unprecedented energy boom. In this second part of a series on public health risks, Inside Energy reporters Jordan Wirfs-Brock and Leigh Paterson clarify the confusion and describe a new scientific effort to help communities make informed decisions about this booming industry.

For people who live in close proximity to this country's current oil and gas boom, are there health risks?

It's a question people are asking from Pennsylvania to North Dakota, from Colorado to Texas, as more and more communities find themselves in the midst of  unprecedented energy development.

Inside Energy met with health researchers, scientists and engineers to learn how oil and gas drilling affects your health and to clarify the confusion about the issue. A Colorado-based research collaboration - the first of its kind - is bringing more than 40 experts together to study natural gas development from all angles to understand the risks and benefits.

A lot of concern around the safety of unconventional oil and natural gas exploration - commonly known by the shorthand fracking - centers on frac fluid: It's the stuff well operators inject into the ground to shake loose the oil and gas.   

Is frac fluid safe?

Industry representatives will tell you that 99.5 percent of frac fluid is just water and sand, and the rest is common household chemicals. To prove it’s safe, they’ll even drink it. Here’s a video of natural gas executive Peter Dea:



But anti-fracking activists, sometimes in song, will tell you about the hundreds of scary-sounding chemicals in frac fluid. Here's Joel Kalma:  



 Both sides are right. But, according to scientists, the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Lisa McKenzie, an epidemiologist at the Colorado School of Public Health, said, "That other 0.5% is important from a health perspective."

Why?

"Chemicals can have very negative effects in extremely small quantities," McKenzie said.