We, the undersigned physicians, nurses, researchers and public health professionals, write to you out of concern for the health of Californians who are threatened with pollution associated with hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and similar techniques. With our concerns informed by the rapidly expanding evidence of harm, and by the uncertainties about health impacts that remain, we urge you to adopt an immediate moratorium on fracking and other unconventional fossil fuel extraction methods.
Evidence linking water contamination to fracking–related activities is now indisputable. An investigation by the Associated Press has confirmed cases of water contamination in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, and Texas (Begos, 2014). Fracking-related contaminants detected in water sources in recent years include methane (Jackson et al., 2013), radium (Vengosh, Jackson, Warner, Darrah, & Kondash, 2014), arsenic (Fontenot et al., 2013), and hormone-disrupting substances (Kassotis, Tillitt, Davis, Hormann, & Nagel, 2014). According to industry data, five percent of wells leak immediately, and more than half leak after 30 years (Brufatto et al., 2003). A recent study of fracking wells in Pennsylvania found that casing and cement impairment in fracking wells can lead to methane migration into underground sources of drinking water, and that unconventional wells are far more likely to leak than conventional ones (Ingraffea, 2014). We know that drilling and fracking contribute to loss of well integrity, increasing the risk that toxic chemicals enter groundwater.
Transporting fracking wastewater to treatment plants has resulted in contamination of rivers and streams with unfilterable radioactive radium (Nelson et al., 2014; Warner, Christie, Jackson, & Vengosh, 2013). In California, the transport of chemical mixtures that include hydrofluoric acid, widely used in well stimulation operations, is particularly dangerous. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hydrofluoric acid is one of the most hazardous industrial chemicals in use and can cause severe burns, lung damage and even death (CDC, 2013).
Air quality impacts from fracking–related activities are clearer than ever. Fracking-related air pollutants include carcinogenic silica dust (Moore, Zielinska, Pétron, & Jackson, 2014), carcinogenic benzene (McKenzie, Witter, Newman, & Adgate, 2012), and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that create ozone (Gilman, Lerner, Kuster, & de Gouw, 2013). Exposure to ozone—smog—contributes to costly, disabling health problems, including premature death, asthma, stroke, heart attack, and low birth weight (Jerrett et al., 2009).
Residents of Kern County and the Los Angeles basin have reported headaches and other ailments associated with air pollution caused by fracking. Kern endures more fracking than any other county in California, on top of some of the worst air quality in the nation. According to the American Lung Association, Kern’s air poses a threat to residents’ health due to high levels of pollutants such as ozone (American Lung Association, 2014), which are likely increased by fracking operations. In Los Angeles and Orange Counties, also burdened by high levels of air pollution, oil companies used over 45 million pounds of air toxics between June 2013 and June 2014 alone (PSR-LA et al., 2014). Air toxics are chemicals that have been proven to cause significant illness, such as cancers, neurological and respiratory diseases and death (EPA, n.d.).
Finally, expanding fossil fuel extraction by allowing fracking and similar techniques fuels climate change, exacerbating health problems throughout California. Rising temperatures could lead to higher concentrations of ozone (NCA, 2014), which, as noted above, contributes to respiratory and heart conditions (Jerrett et al., 2009). Twelve percent of Californians have already been diagnosed with asthma, a figure higher than the national average (CARB, 2013). Extreme heat events will also become more frequent and prolonged as the climate warms, increasing deaths from heat stroke, cardiovascular disease, and respiratory illness (NCA, 2014).
These are just some of the health concerns that have led us to call on you to enact an immediate moratorium on fracking and other unconventional fossil fuel extraction techniques in California. As Governor, you have the responsibility to protect all Californians – and in particular already overburdened communities – from threats to our health and welfare.
American Lung Association (2014). State of the Air. Available at http://www.stateoftheair.org/
Begos, K. (2014). 4 states confirm water pollution from drilling. USA Today. Retrieved from http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2014/01/05/some-states-confirm-water-pollution-from-drilling/4328859/
Brufatto, C., Cochran, J., Conn, L., Power, D., El-Zeghaty, S. Z. A. A., Fraboulet, B., . . . Rishmani, L. (2003). From Mud to Cement – Building Gas Wells. Oilfield Review, 15, 62-76.
California Air Resources Board (2013). Asthma and Air Pollution. Retrieved from http://www.arb.ca.gov/research/asthma/asthma.htm
Centers on Disease Control and Prevention (2013). Facts about Hydrogen Fluoride. Retrieved from http://emergency.cdc.gov/agent/hydrofluoricacid/basics/facts.asp
Environmental Protection Agency (2012). About Air Toxics. Retrieved from http://www.epa.gov/air/toxicair/newtoxics.html
Fontenot, B. E., Hunt, L. R., Hildenbrand, Z. L., Carlton, D. D., Oka, H., Walton, J. L., . . . Schug, K. A. (2013). An evaluation of water quality in private drinking water wells near natural gas extraction sites in the Barnett Shale formation. Environmental Science & Technology, 47(17), 10032-10040.
Gilman, J. B., Lerner, B. M., Kuster, W. C., & de Gouw, J. A. (2013). Source signature of volatile organic compounds from oil and natural gas operations in northeastern Colorado. Environmental Science & Technology, 47(3), 1297-1305.
Ingraffea, Anthony, Martin T. Wells, Renee L. Santoro and Seth B. C. Shonkoff (2014). Assessment and risk analysis of casing and cement impairment in oil and gas wells in Pennsylvania, 2000-2012. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, early edition. Retrieved from www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1323422111
Jackson, R. B., Vengosh, A., Darrah, T. H., Warner, N. R., Down, A., Poreda, R. J., . . . Karr, J. D. (2013). Increased stray gas abundance in a subset of drinking water wells near Marcellus shale gas extraction. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 110(28), 11250-11255.
Jerrett, M., Burnett, R. T., Pope III, A., I., K., Thurston, G., Krewski, D., . . . Thun, M. (2009). Long-term ozone exposure and mortality. N Engl J Med, 360, 1085-1095.
Kassotis, C. D., Tillitt, D. E., Davis, J. W., Hormann, A. M., & Nagel, S. C. (2014). Estrogen and androgen receptor activities of hydraulic fracturing chemicals and surface and ground water in a drilling-dense region Endocrinology, 155(3), 897-907.
McKenzie, L., Witter, R. Z., Newman, L. S., & Adgate, J. L. (2012). Human health risk assessment of air emissions from development of unconventional natural gas resources. Science of the Total Environment, 424, 79-87.
Moore, C. W., Zielinska, B., Pétron, G., & Jackson, R. B. (2014). Air impacts of increased natural gas acquisition, processing, and use: A critical review. Environ. Sci. Technol. Retrieved from dx.doi.org/10.1021/es4053472
Nelson, A. W., May, D., Knight, A. W., Eitrheim, E. S., Mehrhoff, M., Shannon, R., . . . Schultz, M. K. (2014). Matrix complications in the determination of radium levels in hydraulic fracturing flowback water from Marcellus Shale. Environ. Sci. Technol. Lett., 1(3), 204-208.
Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles, Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment, Center for Biological Diversity and Communities for a Better Environment. (2014) Air Toxics One-Year Report: Oil Companies Used Millions of Pounds of Air-Polluting Chemicals in Los Angeles Basin Neighborhoods. Retrieved from http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/campaigns/california_fracking/pdfs/14_6_9_Air_Toxics_One_Year_Report.pdf
U.S. Global Change Research Program (2014) National Climate Assessment. (6 May 2014; http://nca2014.globalchange.gov/ )