The Fracking Boom: Missing Answers

A natural gas boom is underway in the U.S., with more than 200,000 wells drilled in the last decade. In states like Colorado, Texas, Pennsylvania and here in Louisiana, residents who live close to the natural gas bonanza have the same questions: What kind of pollutants is the industrial activity putting into their water and air, and are those pollutants making them sick?

In this weeklong investigative series, NPR's science desk explores why there aren't solid answers to these questions yet.

Additional Resources

Learn more about the process of drilling for natural gas with Exploreshale.org, an interactive website produced by Penn State.

Extensive information about the Haynesville Shale — a huge repository of natural gas stretching across northwestern and central Louisiana — from the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources.

Shale Play is an interactive database of natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania; a collaborative project produced by StateImpact Pennsylvania and NPR.

NPR has delved into the economics of, and controversy surrounding, hydraulic fracturing before, with the 2009 series Exploring Shale: The Quest for Natural Gas.

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Latest News
5:40 pm
Fri June 27, 2014

Mandeville City Council Delays Vote On Fracking

In the end, the Mandeville City Council deferred action on a proposed resolution to ban fracking. Council members said they needed more time and more information about the practice before making a decision.

About a half-dozen Mandeville residents spoke during the meeting to make the case against fracking. But no one from Helis Oil and Gas was there.

Helis is a New Orleans company. They’re seeking permits to drill a well just north of Interstate 12 and use the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, method to extract oil and gas.

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Latest News
8:07 am
Wed June 18, 2014

Opponents Continue Fight Against St. Tammany Parish Fracking Proposal

While critics of a proposed hydraulic fracturing project in Mandeville appeared at a state hearing in Baton Rouge, a lawsuit was filed in a nearby courtroom to stop the plan.

The New Orleans Advocate is reporting that the state Department of Natural Resources is considering a permit requested by Helis Oil and Gas. The hearing focused on whether the 960-acre parcel north of Interstate 12 is large enough to handle the process known as fracking.

The St. Tammany Parish Council is filing a lawsuit claiming the project can’t be done on land zoned for residential use.

Latest News
5:23 pm
Tue May 13, 2014

Helis Oil & Gas Agrees To A Phased Approach To Fracking In St. Tammany

St. Tammany Parish officials announced plans Tuesday afternoon for a scaled-back approach to fracking with Helis Oil & Gas.
Kate Ausburn Flickr

Helis Oil & Gas Company has agreed to a phased approach to its project in St. Tammany, starting only with a conventional vertical well, the Times-Picayune reports.

St. Tammany Parish officials announced the scaled-back plans Tuesday afternoon.

The proposal calls for Helis to drill down 13,000 feet vertically, and to analyze the findings over three to four months.  

The company has agreed to proceed with hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, only if commercially-viable quantities of oil are found to be present.

Environment
4:46 pm
Mon July 9, 2012

Rising Shale Water Complicates Fracking Debate

A water tank truck is seen on the main street in Waynesburg, Pa., on April 13. Scientists say naturally polluted water can rise to the surface of the Marcellus Shale; that finding suggests that frack water could seep out, too.
Mladen Antonov AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Mon July 9, 2012 5:47 pm

The nation's boom in natural gas production has come with a cost: The technique used to get much of the gas out of the ground, called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has contaminated drinking water. But how often and where this contamination is taking place is a matter of much debate and litigation.

Now, a new study has found natural pathways of contamination — but that doesn't mean the drilling industry is off the hook.

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The Fracking Boom: Missing Answers
5:01 pm
Thu May 17, 2012

Pennsylvania Doctors Worry Over Fracking 'Gag Rule'

Plastic surgeon Amy Pare says it's important for doctors to know what kind of substances patients she's treating might have been exposed to.
Susan Philips WHYY

Originally published on Thu May 17, 2012 6:30 pm

From WHYY

A new law in Pennsylvania has doctors nervous.

The law grants physicians access to information about trade-secret chemicals used in natural gas drilling. Doctors say they need to know what's in those formulas in order to treat patients who may have been exposed to the chemicals.

But the new law also says that doctors can't tell anyone else — not even other doctors — what's in those formulas. It's being called the "doctor gag rule."

'I Don't Know If It's Due To Exposure'

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The Fracking Boom: Missing Answers
2:24 am
Thu May 17, 2012

Fracking's Methane Trail: A Detective Story

A natural gas drilling rig's lights shimmer in the evening light near Silt, Colo.
David Gilkey NPR

Originally published on Fri May 18, 2012 8:36 am

Gaby Petron didn't set out to challenge industry and government assumptions about how much pollution comes from natural gas drilling.

She was just doing what she always does as an air pollution data sleuth for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"I look for a story in the data," says Petron. "You give me a data set, I will study it back and forth and left and right for weeks, and I will find something to tell about it."

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The Fracking Boom: Missing Answers
12:53 am
Thu May 17, 2012

Interactive Map: Conventional Natural Gas Drilling Areas And Shale Basins

For many years, natural gas companies have been producing the fuel from "conventional" gas reservoirs, relatively close to the surface and easily accessible. New shale gas production techniques have opened much wider areas for exploration, including the Marcellus area in Pennsylvania and Haynesville area in Texas and Louisiana.

 

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The Fracking Boom: Missing Answers
1:42 pm
Wed May 16, 2012

Slideshow: Town's Effort To Link Fracking And Illness Falls Short

The Fracking Boom: Missing Answers
1:41 pm
Wed May 16, 2012

Town's Effort To Link Fracking And Illness Falls Short

NPR

Originally published on Thu May 24, 2012 10:35 am

Quite a few of the 225 people who live in Dish, Texas, think the nation's natural gas boom is making them sick.

They blame the chemicals used in gas production for health problems ranging from nosebleeds to cancer.

And the mayor of Dish, Bill Sciscoe, has a message for people who live in places where gas drilling is about to start: "Run. Run as fast as you can. Grab up your family and your belongings, and get out."

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The Fracking Boom: Missing Answers
2:04 am
Wed May 16, 2012

Medical Records Could Yield Answers On Fracking

William Reigle has fibrosis, a disease that may be aggravated by nearby fracking. He's one of more than 2 million Pennsylvanians who get their health care from Geisinger Health System. The system wants to use its extensive database of patient records to study the health impact of natural gas production.
Maggie Starbard NPR

Originally published on Wed May 23, 2012 9:50 am

A proposed study of people in northern Pennsylvania could help resolve a national debate about whether the natural gas boom is making people sick.

The study would look at detailed health histories on hundreds of thousands of people who live near the Marcellus Shale, a rock formation in which energy companies have already drilled about 5,000 natural gas wells.

If the study goes forward, it would be the first large-scale, scientifically rigorous assessment of the health effects of gas production.

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