The Fracking Frenzy's Impact on Women

Rogue Pressure Service's "pink rig" in ColoradoHydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," has generated widespread media attention this year. The process, which injects water and chemicals into the ground to release "natural" gas and oil from shale bedrock, has been shown to contribute significantly to air and water pollution and has even been linked to earthquakes. But little has been reported on the ways in which fracking may have unique impacts on women. Chemicals used in fracking have been linked to breast cancer and reproductive health problems and there have been reports of rises in crimes against women in some fracking "boom" towns, which have attracted itinerant workers with few ties to the community.

Toxins in Fracking Process Linked to Breast Cancer

Not only has the chemical cocktail inserted into the ground been shown to contaminate groundwater and drinking water, but fracking fluid also picks up toxins on its trip down to the bedrock and back up again that had previously been safely locked away underground. Chemicals linked to cancer are present in nearly all of the steps of extraction -- in the fracking fluids, the release of radioactive and other hazardous materials from the shale, and in transportation and drilling related air pollution and contaminated water disposal.

Some reports indicate that more than 25 percent of the chemicals used in natural gas operations have been linked to cancer or mutations, although companies like Haliburton have lobbied hard to keep the public in the dark about the exact formula of fracking fluids. According to the U.S. Committee on Energy and Commerce, fracking companies used 95 products containing 13 different known and suspected carcinogens between 2005 and 2009 as part of the fracking fluid that is injected in the ground. These include naphthalene, benzene, and acrylamide. Benzene, which the U.S. EPA has classified as a Group A, human carcinogen, is released in the fracking process through air pollution and in the water contaminated by the drilling process. The Institute of Medicine released a report in December 2011 that links breast cancer to exposure to benzene.

Up to thirty-seven percent of chemicals in fracking fluids have been identified as endocrine-disruptors -- chemicals that have potential adverse developmental and reproductive effects. According to the U.S. EPA, exposure to these types of chemicals has also been implicated in breast cancer.

The Marcellus Shale in the northeast part of the United States also naturally contains radioactive materials, including radium, which is largely locked away in the bedrock. The New York's Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) analyzed 13 samples of water, contaminated by the fracking process, as a result of the hydraulic fracturing of the shale during the extraction process. The DEC found that the resulting water contained levels of radium-226, some as high as 267 times the limit for safe discharge into the environment and more than 3000 times the limit safe for people to drink. One gas well can produce over a million gallons of contaminated water. A New York Times expose in 2011, released secret EPA documents that illustrated how this water is sometimes sent to sewage plants that are not designed to process the dangerous chemicals or radiation which in some instances are used in municipal drinking supplies or are released into rivers and streams that supply drinking water.

Emerging data points to a problem requiring more study. In the six counties in Texas which have seen the most concentrated gas drilling, breast cancer rates have risen, while over the same period the rates for this kind of cancer have declined elsewhere in the state. The average of the six counties' rates has risen from 58.7 cases per 100,000 people in 2005 to about 60.7 per 100,000 in 2008. Similarly, in western New York, where traditional gas drilling processes have been used for decades before hydrofracking came along, has been practiced for nearly two centuries, rural counties with historically intensive gas industry activity show consistently higher cancer death rates (PDF) than rural counties without drilling activity. For women, this includes breast, cervix, colon, endocrine glands, larynx, ovary, rectal, uterine, and other cancers.

Toxins linked to Spontaneous Abortion and Birth Defects

Certain compounds, such as toluene, that are released as gas at the wellhead and also found in water contaminated by fracking have the potential to harm pregnant women or women wishing to become pregnant. According to the U.S. EPA, studies have shown that toluene can cause an assortment of developmental disorders in children born to pregnant women that have been exposed to toulene. Pregnant women also carry an increase risk of spontaneous abortion from exposure to toluene. Wyoming, which contains some of the most active drilling fields in the country, failed to meet federal standards for air quality due to fumes containing toluene and benzene in 2009.

Sandra Steingraber, an acclaimed ecologist and author of "Raising Elijah" -- a book on how to raise a child in an age of environmental hazards, takes the strong stand that fracking violates a woman's reproductive rights. "If you want to plan a pregnancy and someone else's chemicals sabotage that -- it's a violation of your rights as a woman to have agency over your own reproductive destiny," she said.

Steingraber sees banning fracking as an issue that both the pro-choice and anti-abortion camps can rally behind. She has been giving talks on why opposition to fracking should be considered a feminist issue. The author won a Heinz award -- which recognizes individuals for their contributions in areas including the environment -- for her work on environmental toxins. She dedicated the $100,000 prize to the fight against fracking.

Crimes Against Women on the Rise in Some Energy Boom Towns

Beyond concerns about cancer and toxins are other societal ills related to fracking that disproportionately impact women. Some areas across the country where fracking has boomed have noted an increase in crime -- including domestic violence and sexual assault. In Dickinson, North Dakota, there has been at least a 300% increase in assault and sex crimes over the past year. The mayor has attributed the increase in crime to the oil and "natural" gas boom in their area.

The Executive Director of the Abuse & Rape Crisis Center in Bradford County, Pennsylvania, Amy Miller, confirmed that there has been an increase in unknown assailant rapes since the gas industry moved into the region -- which are much harder to prosecute. Miller also noted that domestic abuse has spiked locally, with the cases primarily from gas industry families. The county has more than 700 wells drilled, with more than 300 of these operational, and another 2,000 drilling permits have been issued.

The Gas Industry's Pink Rig

Even though fracking and drilling are dependent on a potpourri of carcinogenic chemicals, big energy companies don't hesitate to slap on pink paint in PR campaigns championing breast cancer awareness.

In 2009, a "natural" gas drilling rig in Colorado was painted pink with a percentage of the daily profits from the unit going to the Breast Cancer Foundation. This and other showy gestures by the shale gas and oil industry appear to do little to alleviate concerns about the impact that fracking chemicals and practices may be having on public health and safety.


The impact of fracking on women's health and well being extends beyond the physical. Many women (and men and children) living in frack-lands in Pennsylvania and other states, and those in threatened New York and threatened countries (of which there are many) are experiencing extreme stress, indeed trauma. The mental and emotional impacts are severe. In some cases there's guilt for having signed a lease, and now knowing the poisons in the air, water, and croplands will likely harm one's children. Knowing that the illnesses caused by these toxins may not manifest for months, years, or even decades, adds an incredible strain, especially because we know we can never trace these illnesses back to the fracking companies -- who will deny responsibility in any case and who may well have changed their name or gone through a merger or be otherwise untraceable. In cases where fracking is occurring already, the community is often fractured (fracked). Some members of the community welcome it for the perceived job growth and economic prosperity (although it is inevitably a boom that will bust). Others recognize the environmental, health, and quality-of-life degradation. Sometimes families are divided over the issue, and some families fracture. A very well researched and written story in No Frack Almanac's most recent issue delves into the subject of rent spikes and foreclosures leading to homelessness in fracked Pennsylvania. When one's water is poisoned, one's home loses all value, so many people are stuck in untenable situations, with nowhere to turn. I know of at least one family where the teen-aged children decided to leave home and move in with relatives in other states, to avoid the rashes, headaches, and respiratory illnesses they got from living at home near shale-gas fracking. Beyond this, the stress and sleeplessness among many antifracktivists is taking a toll. I know dozens of dedicated people who are working night and day to protect their families, communities, and future -- to the detriment of their own health and livelihoods. They know they are literally fighting for their lives and feel they have no choice. Now if only there were tens of thousands more of them -- the stress level of each would lighten.

The environmental community is causing a crisis to create this "mental and emotional impact" so this created stress will cause people to panic! "Fracking" is a process that has been used in the United States for 50+ years. I used to work around this process back in the early 1980's and had my hands in the fluids used in this process. It was termed "hydraulic fracturing" for many years until someone came up with a term that left leaning individuals could remember. The fact is: 1) The process has been used for 50+ years! 2) Not a single case has been proven, as of today, that FRACKING caused water contamination from 5,000 feet below the earths surface to the water table. Yes, there have been a few spills at the surface, but they are cleaned up, including the soil containing the fluids. 3) If these fluids were so toxic, I and many of my fellow workers would have died long ago from cancer. Many of us, that I have stayed in touch with are still in the business working and paying taxes. I am still working now in the pipeline business. 4)The price on Natural Gas is at a 10 year low, (about $2.50 per TCF) where it was around $9.50 per TCF, about 10 years ago. 5) If we would be allowed to drill on something other then private property, we could also reduce the cost of a gallon of gas! I have to go back to work now, after a brief pause to stop this environmental madness that is taking our country down!! I will continue to pay good tax money so our government can spend it in a ridiculous manner, especially when it helps to fund these groups that use BS instead of facts to justify a cause!

Anonymous, you are at least up front about your pro-industry bias, which is very obvious in any case. You are using precisely the tired corporate propaganda with which we have been bombarded over the past few years via a $140 million marketing and lobbying campaign by the fracking* industries. *I use the term "fracking" to refer to the entire, "cradle-to-grave" process, from exploration to point of use. In response to your points: 1) The process has not been used for 50+ years. Just because industry repeats this lie over and over and over and over again does not make it true. Conventional hydraulic fracturing of the past is nothing like the slickwater high-volume horizontal fracturing now going on in, for example, Pennsylvania and other states in the Marcellus Shale. The current method requires four technologies that have only in the past five years been combined: directional drilling, high volumes of frack fluids, slickwater, and the use of multi-well pads and cluster drilling. The entire new unconventional method is still being developed; there have been no long-term studies of its health and environmental effects because it hasn't been around long-term. 2) These assertions are patently false. 3) You and your colleagues are very fortunate not to have cancer. I congratulate you. You also, by your own account, have not been exposed to the toxic chemicals being used in current unconventional gas drilling. But you may be at some point, as have many people in fracklands. I hope your fate is better than theirs. But don't gloat that you don't have cancer, Anonymous. Just be grateful. Having cancer, or watching someone you love die of it, is hell on earth. As, I have come to realize, is living with fracking. 4) The price *is* at a severe low, which makes this an especially inopportune time to spend tens of billions of dollars on extracting it in this destructive manner, even as we permanently remove billions of gallons of water from the hydrological life of our planet and contribute outrageous amounts of greenhouse gases to our atmosphere, hastening climate change, which will surely raise the number and severity of catastrophic [and expensive in many ways] weather events. We should be spending our money instead on conservation efforts and on R&D for renewable, sustainable energy systems, on the local and national levels. 5) The cost of gasoline is completely unrelated to fracking for methane gas. Anyone who does not identify himself or herself as an environmentalist is either a fool or arrogant beyond reach. We all depend on our environment to survive. It gives us the air we breathe and intake via our pores, the water we drink, the food we eat, the ground under our feet. We cannot survive individually or as a species without it. My taking the time to write this response was not for your benefit, because I can see that your mind is made up and you have little if any compassion for people who are suffering under fracking or under the stress of fighting to keep it from destroying the things they cherish. Perhaps you can understand it as a property rights issue: the desire of people not to ruin the property they own, and to not cede sovereignty over their property to some corporation from another state that has neither roots in nor obligation to the community into which they intrude. I will not comment further. You've let me waste enough of my time.

Thank you for presenting facts, not fear and emotion. Fracking, when done correctly, is a safe process to help fuel America. If you really want to learn more and not be driven by fear, visit

It's been going on a lot longer than 50 years, and some of the explosives used in the testing process included napalm followed by gasoline. NSI Technologies has a good history of fracking here; Halliburton is the master of this technique. Only recently have states started to require the industry to disclose make the components used in the hydraulic fracturing (fracking) process, so that potential impacts on nearby groundwater sources and surface water can be examined. The US is the primary source for many requests of natural gas, as it has in place hydraulic fracturing infrastructure - other countries do not (yet). However, the US also has a growing population, so the extraction and transportation of the gas must be examined for conflicts with the surrounding human and natural environment. I am sorry you think this is mass hysteria caused by the environmental community. If the US was a mass wasteland, you would probably not see any concern at all and you could go about your daily job with no one questioning your business. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

The gas fracking companies are invested billions deep in this new process and as it is still cheaper to spend hundreds of millions to corrupt the evidence and decision makers than it is to stop. Here are a few of the facts WE KNOW about slickwater horizontal hydraulic fracturing. Land values go down in the entire region after fracking occurs (and violates mortgage agreements). Pollutants contaminate neighbors water and air and are noisy (criminal trespass), as well as drill under their property. Truck activity does damage to local roads. What is added to the fracking fluid is toxic. That injected fluid can and does make it to the groundwater. The flowback also comes up laced with toxins from deep underground, like radium, heavy metals, and salts. Methane in the water near fracking sites becomes higher after drilling. Earthquakes increase in regions that are fracked. The industry has supressed and denied all information about how this new process, sharing a different processes name, is dangerous. Deep injection wells have around a 15% failure rate. All studies about fracking that give it a clean bill of health have been corrupted by the frackers influence. Every study critical of the new practice has been attacked furiously. Under the guise of job creation and reduced reliance on foreign Natural Gas, we are letting companies poison us. That their arguments are false means nothing when hundreds of millions of dollars are spread among the politicians, advertisements, academia, etc.. But remember that the costs of treating people sick from this process will far outweigh any short-term benefit we get from this process, and those costs will be bourne by our communities, local, state, and federal governments as these companies deny responsibility, and be far higher than any short-term benefit we receive, not to mention the other costs.

This article seems more-or-less sound but I have to ask, why link something from Everyone knows it's propaganda, even the people who make it, and I'm seriously questioning CMD's accuracy now that I've noticed that. Sketchy.

The article links to the statement "fracking has even been linked to earthquakes." This information can easily be found on a whole host of sites. For example, here's that information in the LA Times:,0,5410696.story Additionally, a link to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, which states: "The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) developed the new regulations after researching the link between a series of seismic events in the Youngstown area and a brine disposal well."

Hydraulic Fracturing or Fracking has not been linked to earthquakes. The recent earthquakes in Ohio were directly linked to injection wells. Injection wells have been used in Ohio and the US for decades, even prior to the fracking frenzy. The well in question was improperly drilled into a fault zone thus causing the tremors. Read the story at