Human Health Impacts Associated with Chemicals and Pathways of Exposure from the Development of Shale Gas Plays


Human Health Impacts Associated with Chemicals and Pathways of Exposure from the Development of Shale Gas PlaysBy: Wilma Subra Subra Company/Earthworks Board Member
January 9, 2012

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By: Wilma Subra Subra Company/Earthworks Board Member
January 9, 2012

Crude Oil and Natural Gas Drilling and Production

Waste – Classified As Non-Hazardous

  • Wastes generated by the exploration, development and production of crude oil and natural gas are “exempt” by Federal law from being regulated as hazardous waste.
  • The Solid Waste Disposal Act of 1980 prohibits EPA from regulating drilling fluids, produced water and other waste associated with the exploration, development or production of crude oil or natural gas as RCRA Subtitle C (hazardous) waste.
  • Therefore, oil and gas wastes are referred to as regulated at the state level as “non-hazardous waste”.

    EPA Exempt Oil and Gas Waste Categories

  • Large Volume Waste
    • Produced Waters
    • Drilling Fluids
    • Drilling Cuttings

10 to 70% Analyzed as Hazardous Waste

  • Associated Waste
    • Completion Fluids
    • Production Storage Tank Sludges
    • Produced Oily Sands and Solids
    • Production Pit Sludges
    • Washout Water and Sludge from Tank Cleaning

40 to 60% Analyzed as Hazardous Waste

Development of Shale Gas Plays Consist of Horizontal Drilling and Hydraulic Fracturing

Hydraulic Fracturing Fluids used to Frac each well contain 60 to 160 tons of chemicals such as the following:

  • Surfactants-Laurel Sulfates, reduces interfacial tension in the formation
  • Friction Reducers-Polyacrylamide polymer, reduces surface tension between fluid and pipe surface
  • Biocides-Glutaraldehyde/quaternary ammonia blend, pasteurize not sterilize
  • Scale Inhibitors-Solvent based Ethylene Glycol
  • Corrosion Inhibitor-n,n-dimethyl formamide, gel-Hydroxyethyl Cellulose
  • Iron Control-2-hydroxy-1,2,3- Prapanetricarboxylic Acid
  • Breaker-Sodium Chloride
  • Plus Propping Agents-Sand

Flowback Water

  • Flowback Water consist of the used Hydraulic Fracturing Fluids with contaminants from the fractured formation substances including NORM-Radium 226
  • 20% (Marcellus and Barnett) to 100% (Eagle Ford) of the flowback water is estimated to remain underground

Produced Water/Formation Water

Generated as part of the natural gas production process. The Produced water is contaminated with:

  • Volatile Organic Chemicals-Benzene, Ethyl Benzene, Toluene, Xylene
  • Semivolatile Organic Chemicals-Phenol and Pyridine
  • Toxic Heavy Metals-Arsenic, Barium, Cadmium, Chromium, Lead, Mercury and Vanadium
  • Sulfur containing compounds
  • NORM-Radioactive Radium 226, Radium 228 and Uranium 238
  • Salt Water Minerals

The Volatile Organic Chemicals and Toxic Heavy Metals are known and possible cancer causing agents and mutagens.

Radium 226 is a bone seeker and is a known carcinogen associated with lung and bone cancer.

Pathways Of Exposure

  • Inhalation and Dermal Absorption from Air Emissions
  • Natural Gas Production- Methane and associated hydrocarbons and Condensates
  • Condensate contains extremely toxic volatile organic chemicals
    • Benzene known human cancer causing agent
    • Xylene, Toluene, Ethyl Benzene
    • Other probable and possible cancer causing agents
    • Sulfur based compounds
  • Chemicals are released into the air during production, separation processes, tank storage and pipeline transportation.
  • Emissions into the air from produced water tanks on the production site release methane, toxic volatile organic chemicals and sulfur compounds into the air.
  • Natural gas is frequently vented to the air when a well is completed.
  • Compressors and motors on the drilling and production sites, injection well disposal sites and along pipelines release combustion products and volatile organic hydrocarbons into the air and degrade the air quality. These combustion products also combine with the volatile organic chemicals in the presence of heat and sunlight to produce ground level ozone.

Ingestion and Dermal Absorption Pathways of Exposure

Ground water and surface water resources and soils and sediments are contaminated from:

  • Spills and leaks from pits, tanks, rigs, chemical storage containers, drums, flow lines, pipelines, mixing vats, trucks, injection wells, etc.
  • Road Spreading and Land Spreading of waste
  • Untreated or improperly treated produced water and flowback water discharged from Waste Water Treatment Plants

Acute Health Impacts Experienced by Individuals Living in Close Proximity to Shale Gas Drilling, Fracturing and Production Wells

Air Pathways

  • Irritates Skin, Eyes, Nose, Throat and Lungs
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness, Light Headed
  • Nausea, Vomiting
  • Skin Rashes
  • Fatigue
  • Tense and Nervous
  • Depression, Anxiety, Irritability
  • Confusion
  • Drowsiness
  • Weakness
  • Muscle Cramps
  • Irregular Heartbeat (arrhythmia)
  • Personality Changes

Chronic Health Impacts Experienced by Individuals Living in Close Proximity to Shale Gas Drilling, Fracturing and Production Wells – Air Pathways

  • Damage to Liver and Kidneys
  • Damage to Lungs
  • Damage to Nervous System Causing Weakness
  • Leukemia
  • Aplastic Anemia
  • Changes in Blood Cells
  • Impacts to Blood Clotting Ability

Health Impacts Experienced by Individuals Living in CLose Proximity to Shale Gas Drilling, Fracturing and Production Wells – Air and Drinking Water Pathways

Medical Condition:

  • Respiratory Impacts
  • Memory Loss
  • Feeling Weak & Tired
  • Throat Irritation
  • Sinus Problems
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Muscle Aches or Pains
  • Forgetfulness
  • Recall Problems
  • Breathing Difficulties
  • Eyes Burning
  • Joint Pain
  • Decrease in Vision
  • Sleep Disorder

% of Individuals


25% of the individuals surveyed had the following symptoms:

  • Nasal Irritation
  • Arthritis
  • Persistent Indigestion
  • Increased Fatigue
  • Frequent Urination
  • Extreme Drowsiness
  • Difficulty in Concentrating
  • Inability to Recall Numbers
  • Ringing the Ears
  • Difficulty in Hearing
  • Severe Headaches
  • Tingling in Hands
  • Reduced Muscle StrengthLoss of Sexual Drive

Health Impacts Reported by Community Members Living 50 feet to 2 miles from Compressor Stations and Gas Metering Stations Along Gas Transmission Pipelines

*61% of Health Impacts Associated with Chemicals present in Excess of Short and Long Term Effects Screening Levels in the air

  • Nasal Irritation*
  • Throat Irritation*
  • Eyes Burning*
  • Frequent Nausea*
  • Allergies
  • Sinus Problems*
  • Bronchitis*
  • Persistent Cough
  • Chronic Eye Irritation*
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Increased Fatigue*
  • Muscle Aches & Pains*
  • Weakness* & Tired*
  • Ringing in Ears
  • Sores & Ulcers in Mouth
  • Urinary Infections
  • Depression*
  • Decreased Motor Skills*
  • Falling, Staggering*
  • Frequent Irritation*
  • Brain disorders*
  • Severe Headaches*
  • Frequent Nose Bleeds
  • Sleep Disturbances
  • Joint Pain
  • Difficulty in Concentrating
  • Nervous System Impacts
  • Irregular/Rapid Heart Beat*
  • Strokes
  • Dizziness*
  • Forgetfulness
  • Easy Bruising
  • Amnesia
  • Severe Anxiety*
  • Excessive Sweating
  • Abnormal EEG*
  • Lump in Breast
  • Spleen
  • Pre-Cancerous Lesions*
  • Abnormal Mammogram
  • Thyroid Problems
  • Endometriosis

Most Prevalent Medical Conditions In Individuals Living in Close Proximity to Compressor Stations and Metering Stations

Medical Conditions:

  • Respiratory Impacts
  • Sinus Problems
  • Throat Irritation
  • Allergies
  • Weakness and Fatigue
  • Eye Irritation
  • Nasal Irritation
  • Joint Pain
  • Muscle Aches & Pains
  • Breathing Difficulties
  • Vision Impairment
  • Severe Headaches
  • Sleep Disturbances
  • Swollen & Painful Joints
  • Frequent Irritation

% of Individuals


Units at Compressor Stations and Gas Metering Stations Releasing Emissions into the Air

  • Compressor Engines
  • Compressor Blowdowns
  • Condensate Tanks
  • Storage Tanks
  • Truck Loading Racks
  • Glycol Dehydration Units
  • Amine Units
  • Separators
  • Fugitive Emission Sources

90% of individuals reported experiencing odor events from these facilities

Health Effects Experienced by Community Members Living Near a Natural Gas Storage and Processing Tank Farm

Acute Health Effects

  • Irritates Skin, Eyes, Nose Mouth, Throat and Lungs
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Light Headed
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Chronic Health Effects

  • Anemia
  • Cancer
  • Leukemia

Chemicals Detected in Water in Association with Shale Gas Drilling, Production and Distribution


  • Petroleum Hydrocarbons
  • Chlorides
  • Nitrate
  • Sulfate
  • 2-Butoxyethanol Phosphate
  • 2,4-bis (1-phenyl)-phenol
  • 5-Hydroxymethyl dihydrofuran
  • Dimethyl Phthalate
  • Bis(2-Ethylehexyl) Phthalate
  • Methane
  • Fluoride
  • Nitrite
  • Arsenic
  • Caprolactam
  • Bisphenol A
  • Terpineol
  • Limonene

Chemicals Detected in the Air in Association with Shale Gas Drilling, Production and Distribution

  • Benzene
  • 1,3-Butadiene
  • n-Butyl Alcohol
  • Carbon disulfide
  • Carbonyl Sulfide
  • Chlorobenzene
  • Chloromethane
  • 1,2-Dichloroethane
  • Diethyl Benzene
  • Dimethyl Pyridine
  • Dimethyl disulfide
  • Ethyl Benzene
  • Ethylene
  • Ethylene Oxide
  • Ethyl-methyl ethyl disulfide
  • Formaldehyde
  • Methyl-Methyl ethyl Benzene
  • Methyl Pyridine
  • Naphthalene
  • 1,1,1,2-Tetrachloroethane
  • Tetramethyl Benzene
  • Toluene
  • 1,1,2-Trichloroethane
  • Trichloroethylene
  • Trimethyl Benzene
  • 1,2,4-Trimethyl Benzene
  • Xylene
  • Ethane
  • Isobutane
  • Methane
  • Propane
  • Propylene
  • Nitrogen Oxide
  • Carbon Monoxide
  • Sulfur Dioxid

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