Environmental Impacts & Reporting

The Environmental Health Project (EHP) is dedicated to providing resources to individuals and communities so that they know where to turn for help in the event of an environmental emergency or potential regulatory violation. EHP provides this information as a public resource and is not responsible for the responses from these contacts. 

Shale gas development (SGD) is known to release a variety of emissions that can affect human health through contaminating the air, water, and soil where individuals live, work, and learn. SGD also causes unnatural noise, light, and vibration, which can further impact an individual's physical and mental health. Harmful chemicals and substances are released at all stages of SGD, from fugitive emissions and blowdowns to flaring and accidents. Not only does well drilling release pollution, but so does every other part of the process, including compressor stations, injection wells, waste sites, trucking services, and petrochemical plants. Some harmful emissions include:  

  • Fine particulate matter (such as PM2.5)

  • ​Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as benzene and toluene 

  • Nitrogen oxides 

  • Radon gas

These chemicals and others are known pollutants of air, water, and soil and can lead to health impacts for residents living in close proximity. EHP’s “Health Impacts & Reporting” page offers more information on specific health problems associated with proximity to SGD.  

Residents are encouraged to use the information and resources below to report how SGD is impacting their communities’ air, water, and soil, as well as their own physical and mental health.  

Pathways of exposure to radioactive waste from shale gas development shown on a map with a municipal landfill, wastewater treatment plant, road spreading truck, brine trucks, an open air wastewater impoundment, a hydraulic fracturing well pad, an injection well, and pipelines.

Image courtesy of Center for Coalfield Justice (2020)

Air: SGD releases a variety of harmful chemicals known to pollute the air. Emissions can occur at all stages of development, and a multitude of chemicals can be released. For example, toxic chemicals such as benzene, toluene, and xylene are known to be released from pipelines, dehydrators, condensate tanks, and wastewater impoundment pits. VOCs are released in flaring--the process where excess gas is burned off--as well as from open pits, tanks or impoundments. Many of these toxins get into the air and can have impacts on our environment as well as residents' health.  
 

Water: Shale gas operators use between 2 to 10 million gallons of water in fracturing a single well. During the process, chemicals and sand are added to the water, to make frack fluid. The frack fluid is injected into the ground to create fractures in the shale that allow gas to flow to the surface. Some of the frack fluid returns to the surface along with water released from below the ground. This produced water contains heavy metals, radioactive materials, and salts. Water contamination can occur during the drilling process if produced water or chemical additives spill or contact groundwater or an aquifer, as well as during the transportation and storage of the produced water.  


Soil: Research has shown that some of the same chemicals that contaminate air and water can also impact soil near SGD. Air contaminants from flaring or venting can settle on the ground and soil, causing contamination. Wastewater releases, specifically accidental spills of produced water, can saturate surrounding areas, leaving behind heavy metals, salts, and chemicals. Individuals are exposed to contaminated soil by eating meat or dairy products from impacted animals, breathing particles, or having skin contact with the soil.  
 

Noise, Light, and Vibration: SGD is known to emit a large amount of noise, light, and vibration throughout many of its stages. Truck traffic, drilling, well pumps, and compressor stations are specifically known to cause this type of disturbance. Long-term exposure to unnatural noise and light can be harmful, leading to headaches, high blood pressure, hearing impairment or loss, and sleep disturbances. Noise, light, and vibration cause stress for many individuals, meaning it can also impact a resident's mental health.  

All the factors that pose a risk to people can also harm animals. Contamination of plants used as food sources can increase the risk of health harms in animals. Research has shown that SGD impacts animals in a variety of ways, including an increase in health issues such as stillbirths, fertility issues, birth defects and sometimes death. When possible, keep pets and livestock away from potentially exposed water, air, and soil for protection. It's important to monitor the health of pets and livestock to better understand the impact of SGD near homes and farms.

Contacts for Complaints or Tips

EHP encourages all residents to report what they see and experience in their communities. If you are concerned about an event or a potential hazard affecting air quality, water quality, or public health in your area, report your observations to federal or state agencies. To find your state environmental or health agency, click here. Residents can also make reports to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) through the Environmental Violations form online. For specific reporting information for Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virgina, New York, and Colorado visit our Where to Turn Directory

For an emergency requiring immediate attention, residents should contact local police, fire, or emergency medical services. Always call 911 first.  

Exposure Pathways, Impacts & Protections