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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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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The Fracking Boom: Missing Answers
2:34 pm
Tue May 15, 2012

Slideshow: 'Close Encounters' With Gas Well Pollution

The Fracking Boom: Missing Answers
2:33 pm
Tue May 15, 2012

'Close Encounters' With Gas Well Pollution

NPR

Originally published on Wed May 23, 2012 9:54 am

Living in the middle of a natural gas boom can be pretty unsettling. The area around the town of Silt, Colo., used to be the kind of sleepy rural place where the tweet of birds was the most you would hear. Now it's hard to make out the birds because of the rumbling of natural gas drilling rigs.

The land here is steep cliffs and valleys. But bare splotches of earth called well pads are all over the place.

"That's the one I'm worried about because it just went in," says Tim Ray.

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The Fracking Boom: Missing Answers
2:04 pm
Tue May 15, 2012

Slideshow: Sick From Fracking? Doctors, Patients Seek Answers

The Fracking Boom: Missing Answers
2:03 am
Tue May 15, 2012

Sick From Fracking? Doctors, Patients Seek Answers

Michelle Salvini (left) and Terri DiCarlo take a break from work outside the Cornerstone Care clinic in Burgettstown, Pa. Mysterious fumes have repeatedly sickened clinic staffers, forcing them to evacuate the building several times.
Maggie Starbard NPR

Originally published on Wed May 23, 2012 9:48 am

Kay Allen had just started work, and everything seemed quiet at the Cornerstone Care community health clinic in Burgettstown, Pa. But things didn't stay quiet for long.

"All the girls, they were yelling at me in the back, 'You gotta come out here quick. You gotta come out here quick,' " said Allen, 59, a nurse from Weirton, W.Va.

Allen rushed out front and knew right away what all the yelling was about. The whole place reeked — like someone had spilled a giant bottle of nail polish remover.

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The Fracking Boom: Missing Answers
11:11 am
Mon May 14, 2012

Slideshow: With Gas Boom, Pennsylvania Fears New Toxic Legacy

The Fracking Boom: Missing Answers
11:10 am
Mon May 14, 2012

With Gas Boom, Pennsylvania Fears New Toxic Legacy

NPR

Originally published on Wed May 23, 2012 9:55 am

In Pennsylvania, there's an industrial revolution going on. Battalions of drilling rigs are boring into the earth to extract natural gas from an underground layer of shale called the Marcellus formation.

And as the wells multiply all along the western end of the state, people worry they may be facing another toxic legacy.

The first one came from coal mining. All over the state, you can see bright orange rivers and streams. The aquatic life was killed by acidic runoff from abandoned mines.

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