Are There Worker Health Issues Associated with Fracking?

By Michelle Werts posted 03-26-2014 17:52


As its title implies, today’s Roundtable Session entitled “Hydraulic Fracturing: Are There Worker Health Issues” brought together diverse views and stakeholder groups to discuss how risk to workers may be further mitigated related to horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing.

Natural gas extraction from shale rock formations through the processes of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing has become the fastest-growing source of gas in the US. In 2013, more than half a million people were employed in this industry.

As co-chair Debra Kaden, PhD, ENVIRON International Cooperation, “The rapid increase in production of natural gas using hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling has raised questions around the potential public health impacts of these techniques, including impacts on worker health. The collaboration of occupational hygienists from government and industry with toxicologists and risk assessors is important and necessary to help mitigate any potential worker exposures.”

During the session, the speakers outlined a number of topics that go to the heart of the question in the session’s title:

  • John E. Snawder, PhD, DABT, US Center for Disease Control (CDC) and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) provided information on the current safety and health research in upstream oil and gas extraction and production.
  • Robert A. Nocco, CIH, CSP, Chevron, discussed the collaborative effort among oil and gas operators, oilfield service companies, equipment manufacturers, industry associations, and professional societies to better understand worksite conditions and operating variables in order to help protect worker health.
  • Roger O. McClellan, DVM, DABT, DABVT, FATS, presented toxicological and epidemiological findings and how they are informing decisions on improvements to the hydraulic fracturing process to help mitigate worker exposure and risk.
  • Robert B. Rottersman, CIH, ENVIRON International Corporation, spoke about how to monitor the transient workers in the industry to build a comprehensive exposure assessment plan and ensure worker safety. The transient worker issue is one that makes safety assessments in this industry particularly challenging, as it is hard to track the various exposures of these laborers.