Noise, Light & Vibration

Noise, light, and vibration from truck traffic, drilling, well pumps, compressor stations, processing plants, and other shale gas development (SGD) operations can be disruptive and result in mental and physical health impacts for those living nearby. The impacts may vary depending on the distance from the source and the individual’s susceptibility. As with many other exposures, children and other vulnerable populations may experience greater impacts. Those exposed may experience loss of sleep, difficulty concentrating, and stress. These factors may also lead to anxiety, depression, and other mental health impacts, which are further explored here.

Noise

Noise levels will vary with different SGD activities and infrastructure, and of course the closer you are to the source of the sound, the louder the sound will be.


At well sites, noise may be a result of site preparation, drilling or fracking, and truck traffic. These activities are considered temporary, but that length of time may depend on the number of wells that will be developed on the well pad and how often wells may need to be restimulated. 


With facilities like compressor stations and processing plants, noise may be expected for the life of the facility, with louder fluctuations related to events such as blowdowns or flaring. Noise from SGD tends to fluctuate and may involve low-frequency noise, often described as felt more than heard. Noise mitigation techniques that block higher pitch sounds may fail to adequately block low-frequency noise as these sounds use less energy moving through materials than high-frequency sounds. Low-frequency sounds require thicker/denser materials to dampen the sound.

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Health Impacts from Loud Noises

Loud noise levels are most often associated with hearing loss, but there are other health consequences to consider when noise is frequent or constant, even if it is not loud enough to cause hearing loss. Chronic noise disturbance may contribute to impacts such as stress, disrupted sleep, depression, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, and cognitive impairment in children. Hays et al. (2107) suggested that noise levels from SGD primarily cause annoyance, sleep disruptions, and impacted cardiovascular health. They also noted that, according to the World Health Organization, low-frequency noise may make health impacts from noise pollution considerably worse than impacts from higher-frequency sounds and added that, for homeowners, it was particularly bad since house walls do little to dampen low-frequency waves. 


Though the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other agencies 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.


In 1974, the EPA recommended guidelines for acceptable noise levels averaged over 24 hours based on the use of the area in question. An exposure limit of:

  • 45 decibels is associated with indoor areas, residences, hospitals, and schools and is meant to prevent activity interference.

  • 55 decibels is identified for certain outdoor areas where human activity takes place and is intended to protect against long-term health effects.

  • 70 decibels is identified for all areas in order to prevent hearing loss.

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), any sound over 85 decibels can lead to hearing damage. Therefore, taking steps to reduce noise by wearing hearing protection or to limit your exposure time by going elsewhere is important for protecting your health.

One way to monitor noise levels from SGD is to install a sound measurement app on your smartphone. Search “Sound Meter” where you access apps to see a list of potential options. These apps will give you a noise level snapshot. Limits recommended by the EPA are for an average over 24 hours, but an app can give you a general idea of levels being reached where you live, work, and play.

Protect PT's (Penn Trafford) Noise Monitoring Program helps residents in Westmoreland and Allegheny counties in Pennsylvania identify baseline ambient noise levels of areas in close proximity to shale gas development. Following a baseline study, Protect PT will conduct studies for each phase of development, including construction, drilling, and hydraulic fracturing. For more information, visit Protect PT's website here.

Be aware of noise levels from adjacent industry and your level of stress. If your ability to concentrate and sleep are compromised, you may need to take action to mitigate the noise levels or to ask for remediation from industry.

Light

SGD activities and infrastructure may involve dusk to dawn lighting to assist in working around the clock, such as when wells are being drilled and fracked or for constant nighttime lighting at processing plants and compressor stations.


There is a growing body of evidence indicating that excessive artificial light at night (also referred to as ALAN) may result in health impacts. 

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Image courtesy of Cao et al., 2023

Our bodies work within a 24-hour day/night cycle known as the circadian clock. Extended exposure to artificial light at night can interfere with this cycle and alter the normal functioning of the body. Disorders associated with too much light at night can include mental health disorders (such as depression), disrupted sleep, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and cancer. 


One possible cause of cancer may be the reduced production of melatonin by the body. Melatonin is produced by a gland in the brain at night when it is dark, and it helps to regulate other hormones in the body. Studies have linked reduced nighttime production of melatonin with increased cancer risk.


In addition to turning off lights within your home at night, steps to reduce exposure to artificial light at night from outside the home can be found on the Protecting Your Health page. 

Vibration

SGD may result in vibrations that can be felt in the home during activities such as seismic testing, drilling, and heavy truck traffic. Vibrations are often felt in conjunction with noise. Health impacts related to vibration outside of occupational health have not been well studied. As with noise and light, vibrations that are felt within the home can disrupt sleep and concentration and cause stress and anxiety. 

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