Hydraulic Fracturing

Hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" is a method used to extract natural gas from underground shale formations by injecting water, chemicals, and sand with the use of high-pressure machinery, thereby creating fissures in the rocks through which oil or natural gas can be released. This process raises concerns for public health at the local level because of the possibility that groundwater may be contaminated. Local health departments need to be aware of the potential health and environmental risks of fracking and should serve as stakeholders in the regulation process and educate their communities on the issue.

Community Health and Shale Development Guidebook is a new publication by RESOLVE that seeks to educate local public health officials and other stakeholders on the health issues that could arise if shale energy development—known colloquially as fracking—were to take place in their communities. A 2013 Wall Street Journal analysis determined that more than 15 million Americans live within a mile of a shale well that has been drilled since 2000, so it is critical that local health departments know the possible health effects that might arise from fracking activity in order to ensure the health and safety of their communities. The guidebook provides information on the possible health issues that could arise, offers options for responding to challenges, case studies for successful solutions, and a resource list.

Local health departments should be ready to provide input if their communities are propositioned by the oil and gas industry for fracking activity. Readiness entails anticipating the industry's trajectory and understanding possible side effects, regulatory options, and the LHD's role in providing communities with necessary knowledge to make educated decisions. Hydraulic Fracturing: What Local Health Departments Need to Know provides a general overview of fracking and ways local health departments can mitigate potential harm from fracking.

Fracking is the most pervasively used method of oil and gas extraction in Colorado; in the past decade, the state’s oil and gas wells have near nearly doubled in number, reaching 43,354 in 2010. Fracking activity in Colorado began primarily in the Wattenberg Gas Field, where the first large-scale drilling took place. Now, lease growth follows the discovery of a new shale region, the Niobrara Shale, which sits below the Rocky Mountain range. As with most controversial topics, especially those affecting communities in indeterminable ways, citizen action engagement often follows. The anti-fracking movement is no exception, and in November 2012 the citizens of Longmont, CO, voted to implement a city-wide ban on fracking. Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, et al. v. City of Longmont: A Stymie to Local Fracking Bans or Just the Beginning? examines the case.

The following policy statement details NACCHO's research on the environmental health impact of hydraulic fracturing.