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Latest Extraction Methods May Poison Atmosphere Study Finds

A new study says hydraulic fracturing and other new energy-extraction techniques are emitting vapors of toxic chemicals, poisoning not only nearby underground and surface water, as was already suspected, but also fouling the atmosphere.

A report published Oct. 30 in the open-access journal Environmental Health, says eight harmful chemicals were found in the atmosphere near hydraulic fracturing sites and similar wells in Arkansas, Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wyoming. It said the levels were far greater than recommended by the US government.

The most common of them was the carcinogen benzene, according to the report, prepared by the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University at Albany in New York. Also present was formaldehyde, which also has been linked to cancer, and hydrogen sulfide, whose properties include not only the stench of rotten eggs, but also can damage the brain and the upper respiratory system.

Related: Fracking Alternative to Hit Market and Revive ‘Dead Wells’

The problem with the finding is that the human effects of these chemicals in the environment won’t be noticed for years, Dr. David Carpenter, the director of the school’s institute and lead author of the report, told US News & World Report.

“This is a significant public health risk,” Carpenter said. “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. … It’s an indication of how leaky these systems are.”
Hydraulic fracturing is among several unconventional methods to extract oil and natural gas from reserves that are trapped by rock or shale deep underground. The methods also include what’s known as horizontal drilling.

Until Carpenter’s report, concern about these practices has focused on water underground or on the surface. But Carpenter’s research had neighbors of such drilling sites in the five states take air samples, called “grab air,” during periods of heavy drilling or when they experienced headaches, nausea or dizziness. Related: Ohio Governor Hoping To Amend “Outrageous” Drilling Tax

These volunteers collected a total of 35 grab samples at 11 sites in all five of the states, while Carpenter’s researchers set up 41 additional tests to seek out formaldehyde near compressor or drilling sites. The samples of both the volunteers and Carpenter’s team then were sent to a laboratory.

Sixteen of the 35 grab sample sites and 14 of the 41 tests for formaldehyde showed levels of toxic fumes that exceeded the minimum risk levels as defined by the US Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, and the US Environmental Protection Agency Integrated Risk Information System.  The chemicals most frequently found by the lab analysis were benzene, formaldehyde and hydrogen sulfide.

Carpenter says his study was the first to be based on samples taken by neighbors of drilling sites.

By Andy Tully of Oilprice.com

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