Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms Of Fracking (Unconventional Gas And Oil Extraction)

About this Report

The Compendium is a fully referenced compilation of the significant body of scientific, medical, and journalistic findings demonstrating risks and harms of fracking. Organized to be accessible to public officials, researchers, journalists, and the public at large, the Compendium succinctly summarizes key studies and other findings relevant to the ongoing public debate about unconventional methods of oil and gas extraction. The Compendium should be used by readers to grasp the scope of the information about both public health and safety concerns and the economic realities of fracking that frame these concerns. The reader who wants to delve deeper can consult the reviews, studies, and articles referenced. In addition, the Compendium is complemented by a fully searchable, near-exhaustive citation database of peer-reviewed journal articles pertaining to shale gas and oil extraction, housed at the PSE Healthy Energy scientific literature database.*

For this third edition of the Compendium, as before, we collected and compiled findings from three sources: articles from peer-reviewed medical or scientific journals; investigative reports by journalists; and reports from or commissioned by government agencies. Peer-reviewed articles were identified through databases such as PubMed and Web of Science, and from within the PSE Health Energy database. We included review articles when such reviews revealed new understanding of the evidence. Our entries briefly describe studies that documented harm or risk of harm associated with fracking, summarizing the principal findings. Entries do not include detailed results or a critique of the strengths and weaknesses of each study. Because much of medicine’s early understanding of new diseases and previously unsuspected epidemiological correlations comes through assessment of case reports, we have included published case reports and anecdotal reports when they are data-based and verifiable.

We also provided, within entries, references to articles appearing in the popular press that described the findings of the corresponding peer-reviewed study. For this purpose, we sought out articles in the popular literature that expertly and plainly reported on studies that were highly technical, especially if those articles included comments by principal investigators on the significance of their findings. In such cases, footnotes for the peer-reviewed study and the matching popular article appear together in one entry. We hope these tandem references will make the findings more accessible to lay readers. Acronyms are spelled out the first time they appear in each section.

News articles appearing as individual entries signify investigative reports by journalists conducting original research. While advocacy organizations have compiled many useful reports on the impacts of fracking, these generally do not appear in our Compendium. We also excluded papers that focused purely on methodologies or instrumentation. For some sources, cross-referenced footnotes are provided, as when wide-ranging government reports or peer-reviewed papers straddled two or more topics.

The pace at which new studies and information are emerging has rapidly accelerated in the past year and a half: in the first few months of 2014, more studies were published on the health effects of fracking than in 2011 and 2012 combined. Indeed, the number of peer-reviewed publications doubled between 2011 and 2012 and then doubled again between 2012 and 2013. More than 80 percent of the available studies on the impacts of shale gas development have been published since January 2013 and over 50 percent since January 2014. In 2014, 192 peer-reviewed studies on the impacts of fracking were published. In the first six months of 2015, 103 studies appeared.* In accordance, the Compendium is organized in reverse chronological order within sections, with the most recent information first.

In our review of the data, seventeen compelling themes emerged; these serve as the organizational structure of the Compendium. The document opens with sections on two of the most acute threats—air pollution and water contamination—and ends with medical and scientific calls for more study and transparency. Readers will notice the ongoing upsurge in reported problems and health impacts, making each section top-heavy with recent data. The Compendium focuses on topics most closely related to the public health and safety impacts of unconventional gas and oil drilling and fracking. Additional risks and harms arise from associated infrastructure and industrial activities that necessarily accompany drilling and fracking operations. These include pipelines, compressor stations, oil trains, sand mining operations, cryogenic and liquefaction facilities, processing and fractionation complexes, import/export terminals, and so forth. A detailed accounting of all these ancillary impacts is beyond the scope of this document, but, for the first time, we have included in this edition a section on infrastructure that focuses on compressor stations, pipelines, wastewater recycling facilities, and silica sand mining operations as emerging issues of concern.

Given the rapidly expanding body of evidence related to the harms and risks of unconventional oil and gas extraction, we plan to continue revising and updating the Compendium approximately every six months. It is a living document, housed on the websites of Concerned Health Professionals of New York and Physicians for Social Responsibility, which serves as an educational tool in important ongoing public and policy dialogues. The studies cited in this third edition are current through July 31, 2015.

The Compendium is not a funded project; it was written utilizing the benefit of the experience and expertise of numerous health professionals and scientists who have been involved in this issue for years.

We thank our readers from Physicians for Social Responsibility and PSE Healthy Energy: Barbara Gottlieb, Robert Gould, MD, Jake Hays, Anthony Ingraffea, PhD, PE, Pouné Saberi, MD, MPH, Casey Crandell, and Ryan Miller.

Read/Download the Compendium

* PSE Healthy Energy.

* Hays, J. and Shonkoff, S. B. C. (2015, June 16). Toward an understanding of the environmental and public health impacts of shale gas development: an analysis of the peer-reviewed scientific literature, 2009-2015, PSE Healthy Energy working paper, revised June 2015. Retrieved from