Noise, Light, & Vibration

The noise, light, and vibration from truck traffic, drilling, well pumps, compressors, and other activities that accompany unconventional oil and gas development (UOGD, or “fracking”) can be disturbing to those living near it. While the majority of noise from a drilling site occurs during the first 50-100 days, a person living in close proximity to a site may experience effects of noise pollution for up to 3 years.

How Noise, Light, and Vibration Affect You

Research shows that continuous exposure to unnatural noise and light can cause a variety of health problems, including:

  • Headache
  • High blood pressure
  • Increased stress and anxiety
  • Hearing impairment
  • Sleep disturbances

While more study is needed, the table provides an overview of current research findings from the study of noise levels and UOGD (“fracking”). As you can see, the industrial noise levels in the right-hand column are often louder than what is considered to be safe.

Noise Source

Decibel level (dBA)*



Examples of noise levels measured near oil and gas sites



Barely audible



Whisper; Rustling leaves


About twice as loud as 10 dBA



Quiet room


About 4 times as loud as 10 dBA



Lowest limit of urban ambient sound; Typical living room; Forced hot air heating system


Disturbance of sleep patterns (sleep quality)

45 dBA annual 24 hour average for no interference with indoor activities

New York (2011) 44 to 68 dBA during drilling at 250-2,000 feet

Quiet suburb; Clothes dryer; Printer


Disturbance of sleep patterns (awakening and mood impacts)

55 dBA annual 24 hour average for no activity interference outdoors

West Virginia (2013) one-hour noise measurements at several of 7 well pads exceeded 55 dBA annual 24 hour average

Conversation in a restaurant; Window Fan on High


Impacts on school performance


New York (2011) 52 to 75 dBA during well pad construction

Vacuum cleaner


Ischemic heart disease, hypertension

70 dBA annual 24-hour average lifetime exposure above which hearing loss may occur

Fort Worth (2006) 71-79 dBA drilling noise at 200 feet from well

Freight train at 50 feet; Propeller plane at 1000 feet; Food blender


Hearing damage possible if exposed for 8 hours or more

90 dBA permissible noise exposure limit for a maximum of 8 hrs per day (OSHA)

New York (2011) 72 to 90 dBA during fracking at 250-2,000 feet

Power mower; Boeing 737 at 6000 feet


Hearing loss at sustained exposure


Fort Worth (2006) 102 dBA rig generator at 10 feet; New York (2011) up to 102 dBA during fracking at 50-500 feet

Chain saw



115 dBA permissible noise exposure limit for a maximum of 15 min per day (OSHA)


Source: NRDC

*dBA is an expression of the relative loudness of sounds in air as perceived by the human ear.

What You Can Do

While there is little that can be done to reduce exposure to vibration, you can take steps to reduce noise and light:

  • Use earplugs or sound blocking headphones around the house
  • Use light-blocking window shades
  • Wear eyeshades or a mask when sleeping
  • Temporarily rearrange your home so you can sleep in a different space
  • Try to avoid dependence on sleeping pills, alcohol, or other medications
  • Contact EHP for help.

Measuring Noise Pollution

According to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidelines, acceptable noise levels are based on the use of the area in question. For example:

  • 45 decibels is associated with indoor residential areas, hospitals and schools
  • 55 decibels is identified for certain outdoor areas where human activity takes place
  • 70 decibels is identified for all areas in order to prevent hearing loss 

Though the EPA and other bodies like the World Health Organization (WHO) suggest noise guidelines, they do not have any regulatory authority to enforce noise pollution problems. Instead, noise control is regulated by state and local governments. Consult with your local health or environmental regulatory agency for more information.

One easy way to monitor noise levels from unconventional oil and gas development (“fracking”) is to use a sound measurement app on your smartphone. EHP recommends SoundMeter+, which is available for iPhones. (For best results, select “A” for waiting on the lower left of screen and “slow response” on the lower right hand screen.) Sound monitoring apps are also available for other types of devices but have not been as rigorously tested. Read a review of sound monitoring apps here.

Want to Learn More?

Nighttime UOGD operations. Photo courtesy of Bob Donnan.