Fracking and Dangerous Silica Dust
Written by Faith Anderson on June 27, 2012
Controversy Surrounding Hydrofracking
Hydrofracking is a controversial process of gas extraction in which a mixture of sand, water and fluids is injected into the ground at extremely high pressure, cracking shale deposits and freeing trapped natural gas, a process during which silica dust is generated by the sand. Workers at hydraulic fracturing sites can be exposed to high levels of silica dust in a number of ways, including when the dust is blown off the sand movers or when it is kicked up by vehicle traffic, transfer belts and blenders. Crystalline silica is a mixture of sand and quartz commonly found in the Earth’s crust and used in clay, sand and concrete, although only dust particles small enough to enter the lungs are dangerous.
Inadequate Safety Measures for Hydraulic Fracturing Workers
NIOSH took 116 samples at eleven fracking sites in five different states and discovered that 79% had silica exposure at levels higher than recommended. In 31% of samples collected, the silica levels exceeded the recommended amount by ten times or more. NIOSH warns that at those levels, even half-face respirators aren’t enough to protect workers from harm. OSHA and NIOSH have indicated that it is up to employers to protect workers from silica dust at hydrofracking sites, which can be implemented through safe work practices, dust and engineering controls, and the use of materials other than crystalline silica. In the meantime, employers are advised to take steps to limit a worker’s exposure to the potentially dangerous dust.
Adverse Environmental Effects of Fracking
Hydraulic fracturing has become a popular method of gas extraction because of new drilling techniques and the discovery of large shale reserves across the eastern seaboard. Although it was first utilized in Wyoming and Montana, the process has spread across the east coast in thousands of well sites in Maryland, Pennsylvania and New York. The practice of hydraulic fracturing has come under fire recently however, due to a number of environmental concerns concerning the controversial process. Among other dangers, residents living near hydrofracking sites have reported issues like dust problems, air pollution, and contaminated groundwater from fracking fluids. Efforts to force the gas industry to reveal what is included in fracking fluids has been blocked, and a number of states have enacted controls to slow down the spread of hydrofracking until its potential environmental effects have been further researched.