Public health researchers continue to probe the consequences of the American natural gas boom.
People who live near natural gas wells are being exposed to elevated levels of several air pollutants, including the known carcinogen, benzene. That's the conclusion of a study from the Colorado School of Public Health. The study strongly suggests that a much closer look is needed at just how these pollutants are affecting people's health.
This study was a preliminary attempt to assess some of the potential health effects of living near these wells. It found that the greatest concerns occur within a half mile of the wells.
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The report, based on three years of monitoring the air in Garfield County, Colorado, found a number of potentially toxic hydrocarbons in the air near the wells, such as xylene, ethylbenzene and toluene, chemicals known to cause respiratory and neurological problems. Garfield County has recently been the site of rapidly expanding gas development.
Needless to say, residents were not too pleased at the study results.
Extraction of natural gas is rarely a matter of drilling a simple hole in the ground any more. The quest for deeper, less accessible gas deposits increasingly relies on fracking to bring these deposits to the surface. Fracking (high pressure fracturing) is the injection of large volumes of pressurized liquid (water and chemicals) into rock deep underground to fracture the rock and allow the trapped gas to rise to the surface. Fracking has come under fire as environmentally hazardous for several reasons, most often for the water pollution it can cause.