Oil, Gas & Fracking Wells

Whether or not a well or facility near you could pose a risk to your health or property value depends on many factors, including the location, type of extraction process, level of activity, quality of construction and long-term management of the site itself.


Lauren Chambliss

May 7, 2021 • Updated Mar 17, 2022 • 6 min read

Find oil, gas, fracking wells and other environmental hazards near you here

Overview#

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America has been drilling for oil and gas since 1864 when Colonel Edwin Drake drilled 70 feet down and struck “black gold” near Titusville, Pennsylvania. Since then,the industry has gone through periods of intense development, the most recent being this century’s shale-gas boom. Advances in drilling and extraction technology now allow companies to mine deep beneath the surface of the earth – sometimes more than a mile – to tap pockets of natural gas trapped between layers of rock. This extraction process, called hydrofracking, or fracking, has been particularly heavy in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas and Colorado, which have enormous fields of gas tucked deep in the earth. As oil and gas activity ramps up, so does the controversy. While some states have passed laws to encourage drilling activity, several others, such as New York, Maryland and Vermont, have banned it. In some towns in Colorado and Ohio, voters enacted ‘time-outs” or moratoriums to halt new development amid concerns about the impact on their communities.

In response, scientists have stepped up efforts to assess possible health effects for people living near both conventional oil wells and fracked gas wells. The research is not conclusive, but there is emerging evidence that living within a mile of a well of either type is associated with increases in health issues possibly caused by air pollution or groundwater contamination.

Thanks to the explosion in drilling activity, nearly 18 million Americans in 34 states now live within one mile of a well. Whether or not a well or facility near you could pose a risk to your health or property value depends on many factors, including the location, type of extraction process, level of activity, quality of construction and long-term management of the site itself.

Most experts agree that a properly constructed well is safe, but problems can arise during construction, operation and transportation that allow unhealthy levels of organic and inorganic compounds to escape. With the newer “fracked” wells, there are growing concerns about escaped methane and chemicals, as well as quality-of-life issues with transportation, earthquakes, noise and light pollution, which can happen at various stages of the drilling process.

Your Home and Oil, Gas & Fracking Wells#

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Health and Safety#

Several studies, some commissioned by state governments, show mixed results about whether living near a well site is potentially dangerous to your health. Some research suggests that living within a mile of an oil or gas well increases the chances of heart defects in newborns, lower birth weight, and other problems, especially in rural areas. Another recent study of households in Pennsylvania with a ground-fed water supply foundan association with health symptoms, including skin and respiratory conditions, reported by residents living near natural gas extraction activities.

Most of the health concerns arise from potential air pollution – a mix of caustic chemicals and gasses can be released from drilling processes and during leaks. Recent studies in California, near areas where residents have complained of various ailments, found that half of the 211 reported gas leaks at drilling facilities resulted in toxic chemicals and gasses, such as benzene, spewing into the air at unhealthy levels. A 2019 study in Colorado that examined emissions data highlighted similar concerns. The in-depth report concluded that in “worst-case conditions” at drilling sites, chemical concentrations up to 2000 feet from active wells could potentially cause short-term negative health impacts, such as headaches, dizziness, respiratory, skin, and eye irritation. Colorado’s report came amid years of complaints by citizens in counties with heavy drilling operations. In Weld County alone, residents filed more than 350 complaints with health and other concerns.

Nationwide, a review of the scientific findings of nearly 700 research papers published between 2009-2015 found that 84% of the health studies discovered elevated health risk, 69% of water quality studies showed potential or actual incidence of water contamination, and 87% of air quality studies documented elevated air pollutant emissions or an unhealthy atmosphere.

However, it is important to note that most of these studies are limited to a specific location and are not national in scope. Plus, they can’t conclusively link the level of risk with proximity to a well because other factors, including income-level, diet, poor well construction, or exposure from other sources, could also be to blame.

Some highly publicized events, such as the 2015 explosion at a gas storage facility in California’s Aliso Canyon, produce an immediate health risk to residents, but most people living near oil or gas wells or storage facilities may never notice the activity, let alone experience any health problems.

Property Values#

Measuring the impact on oil and gas activity on your property is no easy task. Where you live, the type of property, if there is a welcoming local environment or a history of publicized complaints, these are just some of the factors that influence a sale or purchase. In some areas of newer oil and gas development, such as North Dakota, real estate agents reported a housing boom in some neighborhoods. A review of a housing market in Colorado found homes close to drilling wells in rural areas did not experience price pressure, and homes in urban areas had a very small, 1% decline. A Texas study showed a more significant price hit, with a 5-15% reduction in price, for homes near wells. In areas with publicized problems with accidental leaks, perceived poor air quality or complaints about tainted drinking water, real estate prices are very likely to be depressed. And there is some evidence that noticeably active drilling – noise, lights from the well pad, or truck traffic -- in the vicinity during the time a buyer is considering a purchase can reduce the price.

What You Can Do#

If you live near ongoing oil and gas activity, it is a good idea to find out what type of activity is taking place. Is it a conventional oil well or an unconventional well that uses hydrofracking? Generally speaking, there are more concerns about fracked gas than traditional oil drilling.The federal government doesn’t track oil and gas wells. It is up to each state to monitor activity, including leaks, accidents or incidents. Some states do a better job keeping the public informed than others. It’s a good idea to contact your state board to see if the well near you has a clean record.

Air and water quality are the two main issues. Testing kits can tell you whether benzene, the main cancer-causing chemical associated with oil and gas wells, is present in harmful quantities. There are also tests your doctor can run to tell if you have unhealthy levels in your body, though these tests are most reliable immediately after contact.

If you have any doubt about your water quality, immediately switch to bottled or filtered water until you are confident your water is safe to drink. If air quality is a problem, home air filters can help remove particles that aggravate asthma and other respiratory ills.

AreaHub’s Knowledge Center is updated regularly and provides information drawing upon scientific studies and sources.

Sources#

  • Congenital Heart Defects and Intensity of Oil and Gas Well Site Activities in Early Pregnancy. Environment International. Lisa McKenzie, William Allshouse, Stephen Daniels.
  • Does Living Near an Oil or Natural Gas Well Affect Your Drinking Water? Journal of Engineering.
  • Final Report: Human Health Risk Assessment for Oil & Gas Operations in Colorado. Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment.
  • Toward Consistent Methodology to Quantify Populations in Proximity to Oil and Gas Development: A National Spatial Analysis and Review. Eliza Czolowski, et al.
  • New Reports Raise Health Concerns About Emissions from California's Oil and Gas Industry. Energy Exchange. Irene Burga.
  • Possible Connection Between Cardiovascular Disease and Living Near Oil and Gas wells. Health and Medicine Week.
  • Proximity to Natural Gas Wells and Reported Health Status: Results of a Household Survey in Washington County, Pennsylvania. Environmental Health Perspectives. Peter Rabinowitz, Ilya Slizovskiy, Vanessa Lamers, et al.
  • Are Housing Prices Pulled Down or Pushed Up by Fracked Oil and Gas Wells? Journal of the Society of Natural Resources. Ashley Bennett, Jim Loomis.
  • "Fracking" Sparks Concern over Nearby Home Values. Realtor Magazine.
  • The Housing Market Impacts of Shale Gas Development. American Economic Review.
  • Oil Boom Sparks Housing Rush in North Dakota. Realtor Magazine.