Documentaries such as FrackNation and Gasland have highlighted many of the environmental dangers of hydraulic fracking. The primary dangers are the contamination of ground water and the emission of pair pollutants.
In addition to the environmental dangers, the thousands of industrial workers who work on fracking sites on a daily basis are also at risk of serious injury or death in the event of a catastrophic accident. Common causes of accidents on fracking sites such as the Eagle Ford shale in Texas, the Bakken shale in North Dakota or the Marcellus shale in Pennsylvania include blowouts, defective equipment, vehicle collisions, and the failure of the employer to meet a number of safety standards. All of these types of accidents are common, not only in the fracking industry, but in the energy industry at large.
Specific to the fracking industry is an often overlooked occupational hazard that may come from the use of industrial sand or "frac sand." Unlike the sand you would find naturally at the beach, industrial is almost 100% crystalline silica and is specially produced and a vital part of the fracking operations. In order to stabilize the wells in preparation for the injection of water and other chemicals, frac sand is first pumped to produce petroleum fluids from rock units that do not have adequate space for the oil or natural gas to flow to a well.
Exposure To Industrial Sand
A 2012 report by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) revealed that the use of industrial sand exposes workers to an unacceptably high level of silica. The report reveals the results of air samples taken by the NIOSH in 11 different fracking sites in Arkansas, Colorado, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Texas. Samples from each site showed that exposure to crystalline silica "consistently exceeded relevant occupational criteria." The magnitude of the exposure was so great that the study concluded that even workers who were wearing protective masks would still not be sufficiently protected.
How widespread could this exposure be?
The NIOSH estimates that there are roughly 435,000 workers involved in the exploration and production of oil and gas extraction, with half of those workers employed by companies who engage in fracking operations. However, only the drilling phase of the fracking operations put workers at risk of high levels of silica and it is unknown how many workers are employed in that process of the operations.
Dangers of High Exposure to Silica
High levels of silica exposure – particularly over long periods of time – put workers at increased risk of developing:
- Lung cancer
- Chronic obstructive respiratory disease
- Renal disease
- Respiratory failure
While the immediate dangers of being harmed by heavy machinery are always at the forefront of industrial workers' minds, the often unseen long-term health risks of continued exposure to silica could be a bigger danger. The latency period for silica exposure can be extremely long. On average, a person is not formally diagnosed (often showing no symptoms) with silicosis until 28 years after the initial exposure.
If you have been diagnosed with silicosis, lung cancer or another respiratory disease as a result of toxic exposure, contact our attorneys today.