The Science


Fracking, short for high-volume hydraulic fracturing, is an unconventional and dangerous process used widely in the last decade to recover previously inaccessible gas and oil stored deep underground. It requires millions of gallons of water, sand, and chemicals pumped at high pressure to break apart shale deposits to release the gas or oil. Many of the chemicals used are known to have carcinogenic, neurotoxic, or endocrine-disrupting effects; others have not been tested for toxicities. Some of the chemicals used are not publicly disclosed so potential health effects are unknown. Drilling and fracking have led to widespread reports of ground and surface water contamination, significant air quality problems, public health harms, economic losses to communities, earthquake activity and a host of other problems across the country.

Maryland’s Department of the Environment recently released draft regulations for fracking and may begin issuing permits as early as October 2017. That is why it is critical that the General Assembly pass a permanent ban on this dangerous industrial activity during the 2017 legislative session.

More than 900 peer-reviewed publications assessing the effects of shale gas development now exist, with more than 230 published so far in 2016. Of the peer-reviewed publications on the health effects of fracking, 86 percent found risks or adverse health outcomes. Maryland’s Institute for Applied Environmental Health (MIAEH) also concluded that risks to public health and the environment are “high” or “moderately high” in 7 of 8 areas studied. More than half of the peer-review publications have been released since MIAEH completed its study in the summer of 2014.

In addition to the broad scientific trends showing that fracking is a threat to air, water and health, several recent studies have uncovered more specific impacts:

  • Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and collaborating institutions published a study in August 2016 which analyzed responses to questionnaires received from more than 7,000 adult primary care patients in central and northern Pennsylvania, and found statistically significant associations between proximity to active fracking operations and various combinations of migraine headaches, chronic rhinosinusitis and fatigue symptoms.
  • Another study from Johns Hopkins, published in July 2016, analyzed medical records of more than 35,000 asthma patients, ages five to 90 years old, and found a statistically significant association between proximity to active fracking operations and mild to severe asthma exacerbations.
  • An earlier October 2015 study also led by researchers at the Johns Hopkins found that expectant mothers living near heavy fracking in Pennsylvania were significantly more likely to experience a high-risk pregnancy or give birth prematurely.
  • Research in northeast Pennsylvania, released in July 2015, found a correlation between the density of fracking wells and the rate at which local residents were admitted to the hospital.
  • And in June 2015, University of Maryland researchers published evidence that emissions from fracking in West Virginia and Pennsylvania were impacting air quality as far away as Baltimore and Washington DC.


Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility
Health and Energy Brief

Physicians Scientists & Engineers for Healthy Energy

Working Paper Analysis

Concerned Health Professionals of New York
Third Edition of the Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media findings of Risks and Harms of Fracking.