The results of a new study have created more controversy over the oil and gas drilling method known as fracking. The new study conducted by Harvard scientists reveals that radiation levels downwind of hydraulic fracturing drilling (fracking) sites tend to be significantly higher than other surrounding areas, posing a potential health risk to nearby residents.
The study examined thousands of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s radiation monitor readings nationwide from 2011 to 2017. Areas within 12 miles downwind of 100 U.S. fracking wells tend to have radiation levels that are about 7% above normal background levels. The study showed readings can go much higher in areas closer to drill sites, or in areas with higher concentrations of drill sites.
The source of the radiation is likely naturally-occurring radioactive material brought up to the surface in drilling waste fluids during fracking*, a process that pumps water and chemicals underground to break up shale formations. Radioactive particles can be inhaled and increase the risk of lung cancer.
The study found the biggest increases in radiation levels near drill sites in states like Pennsylvania and Ohio that have higher concentrations of naturally occurring radioactive material beneath the surface, and lower readings in places like Texas and New Mexico that have less.
*Scientists found less pronounced increases in particle radiation levels near conventional drilling operations.
Journal Reference: Longxiang, L., et al. Unconventional oil and gas development and ambient particle radioactivity, Nature Communications, volume 11, Article number: 5002 (2020). DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-020-18226-w
Download pdf of scientific journal article here.