I regularly get calls from people around the country, from the east coast to the west coast and many places in between, concerned about the health risks of the oil and gas activities that are coming to their communities as part of the national drilling boom. Last year NRDC looked at these issues in our report, "Drilling Down: Protecting Western Communities from the Health and Environmental Effects of Oil and Gas Production."
This year a team of environmental health experts at the University of Colorado's School of Public Health undertook a review of the published, peer-reviewed scientific literature to examine what is known concerning the health effects of oil and gas drilling and production on neighboring communities. They also reviewed available empirical data regarding communities in western Colorado. In the interest of full disclosure, this work received partial financial support from NRDC, but the work was conducted independently, is solely the work product of the authors, and does not represent the position of any university or organization.
The experts found that many hazardous chemicals are being used and produced by oil and gas extraction processes and that most of the hazardous chemicals reviewed are already known to produce adverse health effects in individuals. While they found relatively little published research on the topic, what studies do exist indicate risk to human health and high exposure to some toxic chemicals. They recommend measurement, monitoring, and a thorough health impact assessment before future expansion of oil and gas activities.
Communities in western Colorado have been asking the federal government for this kind of assessment as new plans for drilling are considered there. In our 2007 report, NRDC called for these assessments as well as for closing loopholes in federal environmental laws that allow the oil and gas industry to pollute in ways that other industries are prohibited from doing. We also called for more research including environmental monitoring, exposure assessment, tracking of health outcomes, and more disclosure of the chemicals used by industry.
The two papers produced by the Colorado environmental health experts can be found in the Health section of NRDC's document bank at: docs.nrdc.org.