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Air Contamination Pathways From High-Volume Fracturing Activities | Liz Patula, SAFE

Air contamination from large-scale hydraulic fracturing activities takes a variety of pathways.  According to the Oil and Gas Accountability Project, which is a highly respected organization dedicated to careful documentation of oil/gas activities, these pathways include: air contamination from separators, dehydrators, condensers, compressors, chemical spills, leaking pipes and valves, flaring/venting, open waste or impoundment pits, and various diesel engines. 

Other air contamination pathways include migration of methane and/or radon (especially into people’s homes and yards) through natural fractures in the rock layers which are preferentially opened or intersect with man-made fractures; through natural vertical faults in the rock layers which intersect with man-made horizontal fractures; via disturbances of previously blocked migration paths through joint sets or faults from the fracking itself; through abandoned oil/gas wells or other vertical perforations of the rock layers, and/or through well casing failures.

Examples exist of residents whose homes and basements are contaminated with methane and/or radon after the commencement of horizontal fracking activities.  One example is Bob and Lisa Parr of Texas, who abandoned their house on physician’s advice due to severe, confirmed (tested) air contamination in their house occurring at the same time as nearby large-scale fracking activities. Mary McConnell of PA had three physicians sign her hospital discharge papers, which stated that Mary should not to return to her home, that her environment was killing her after a company used her land (under her house) for gas drilling activities.  (Mary’s blood methane had tested off the charts.  Mary has to wear a gas mask in her own home.  SAFE  actually heard from Mary personally, and she is struggling with various health problems.

According to the Colorado School of Public Health, cancer, respiratory, and neurological disease risks are greater for residents who live closer to large-scale fracturing activities, due to documented air contamination around these operations. 

Chris Mobaldi of Colorado died in 2010, and her physician is on record as saying, in his opinion, that Chris’s symptoms prior to her death were related to her proximity to large-scale fracturing activities.

Residents of Dish, TX, were having so many health problems in correlation with the arrival of nearby gas drilling and processing facilities, that they hired professional air testing and found:

The sampling confirmed the presence of high concentrations of cancer-causing chemicals (carcinogens) and neurotoxin compounds in air near or on residential properties in Dish.  A number of these compounds exceeded both short and long-term effects screening levels (ESL) established by the TCEQ.  For example, benzene, a known human carcinogen, exceeded the short-term at one site and the long-term level at three sites. Fourteen other chemicals that exceeded short-or long-term ESLs included: m,p-xylene, dimethyl disulfide, methyl ethyl disulfide, ethyl-methylethyl disulfide, trimethyl benzene, diethyle benzene, methyl-methylethyl benzene, tetramethyl benzene, naphthalene, 1,2,4-tri-methyl benzene, carbonyl sulfide, carbon disulfide, methyl pyridine and dimethyl pyridine.

According to the Wolf Eagle Environmental report, Dish has virtually no heavy industry other than oil-and-gas related facilities. There are no other industrial activities with the capability to produce the volume of air toxins present within miles of the town.  (“Natural Gas Flowback: How the Texas Natural Gas Boom Affects Health and Safety” by S. Wilson, L. Sumi, B. Walker and J. Goldman, April 2011,

Air contamination is a major threat to our health and must be considered as carefully as water contamination.


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