May 14, 2012
Contact:
Emerson Brown, NPR


   

NPR'S SCIENCE DESK REPORTS:
'SCIENCE AND THE FRACKING BOOM: MISSING ANSWERS'

SERIES AIRS THIS WEEK ON 'MORNING EDITION' AND
'ALL THINGS CONSIDERED,' WITH FOCUS ON TX, CO AND PA

A natural gas boom is underway in the U.S., with more than 200,000 wells drilled in the last decade. Due largely to an engineering technique called hydraulic fracturing, drillers can unlock previously inaccessible natural gas reserves locked in shale rock. This new shale gas industry supports 600,000 jobs, along with bringing billions of dollars a year to the national economy. But excitement for this major new source of energy is often accompanied by concerns. People in high-fracking states like Colorado, Texas and Pennsylvania wonder about the kind of pollutants the industrial activity is putting into their water and air, and whether those pollutants are making people sick. In a weeklong series beginning today, NPR's Science Desk examines questions about the effects of fracking on health, the environment and communities - and why after years of drilling, many questions remain unanswered.

"Science and the Fracking Boom: Missing Answers" airs all week on the NPR newsmagazines Morning Edition and All Things Considered (stations and broadcast times are at npr.org/stations). Reporting the series are Science Desk correspondents Jon Hamilton, Christopher Joyce, Elizabeth Shogren and Rob Stein, along with Susan Phillips from StateImpact Pennsylvania. The entire series and accompanying multimedia elements, including an interactive graphic and images from NPR photographers David Gilkey and Maggie Starbard of frack sites and the communities around them, will also be available at NPR.org.

NPR talks to scientists studying this industry, and residents from rural Colorado, the tiny town of Dish, Texas, and Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale who all raise the same concerns: lack of knowledge about pollutants; headaches, nose bleeds and other health issues; and ongoing concerns about the wastewater created by the fracking process. There's no proof that natural gas production is causing significant pollution, or causing illness to residents living in the shadow of wells and rigs. As NPR reports, however, no one has proven harm, or cleared the industry from blame, for one reason: the rigorous studies needed haven't been done. For the most part, air quality at fracking sites isn't directly monitored, and the industry and regulators usually estimate how pollutants are being emitted - rarely are actual samples taken from the air to directly measure them.

Reports in the series are scheduled to include the following (list and broadcast dates are tentative and subject to change):

With Gas Boom, Pennsylvania Fears New Toxic Legacy
All Things Considered; Monday, May 14
Hydraulic fracturing promises to transform the U.S. energy economy, and Pennsylvania is ground zero, where huge reserves of gas lie underground in the Marcellus Shale. But it takes a lot of water to get it out, and that water ends up polluted. Drillers need more, but communities worry if they have the resources to protect waterways and drinking water from billions of gallons of wastewater. NPR's Chris Joyce follows the frack water, from start to finish, and shows what problems have been fixed and what problems remain.

Physicians Stuck Between Natural Gas Industry, Patients
Morning Edition; Tuesday, May 15
Some people living around gas well drilling sites complain about strange headaches, rashes, nosebleeds and other health problems. Nobody knows what's causing these symptoms or whether they're related to natural gas production. As NPR's Rob Stein reports, this leaves doctors and patients in the frustrating position of not knowing what to do.

Surrounded By Wells: The Dilemma of Dish, Texas
All Things Considered; Tuesday, May 15
If there's place in the U.S. that could prove whether fracking makes people sick, it would be Dish, Texas. It's a town of a few hundred people, surrounded by many new natural gas wells. The town has ordered health study after health study, but they turned up nothing. As NPR's Jon Hamilton reports, the reason for that may be because town officials didn't order - or have the money for - the right kind of studies.

Close Encounters of a Fracked Well Kind
All Things Considered; Wednesday, May 16
In Colorado's Garfield County, natural gas wells are drilled so close to homes, residents call it "close encounters." County officials and residents have tried to find out how much pollution is being exposed to people living next to wells. Ten years into their search, they still don't have answers, as NPR's Elizabeth Shogren and Rebecca Davis report.

Fracking Chemical 'Gag Rule' Leaves Doctors Wondering
All Things Considered; Thursday. May 17
Physicians that diagnose patients living around Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale can request to see the entire chemical list for frack fluids. Many companies keep these ingredients private, saying they're trade secrets. Doctors can only see the list of chemicals if they agree not to keep the information secret, and doctors say they aren't sure what that means. Susan Phillips from StateImpact and Member station WHYY reports.