The Health Impact Assessment of New Energy Sources: Shale Gas Extraction
Deborah L. Swackhamer, co-director of the Water Resources Center at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, presented recently on the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on water resources and implications for human health at a two-day workshop, hosted by the Institute of Medicine.
The workshop, “The Health Impact Assessment of New Energy Sources: Shale Gas Extraction,” was held April 30 and May 1 in Washington, D.C., and was organized by the IOM’s Roundtable on Environmental Health Sciences, Research.
Natural gas extraction from shale rock formations, which includes hydraulic fracturing, known as “hydrofracking,” is increasingly in the news, as the deployment of the technologies has expanded, rural communities have been transformed overnight, public awareness has increased, and regulations are developed.
The workshop was intended to inform IOM members, scientists, decision makers, and others about the potential health impacts of hydrofracking and to be better positioned to consider safeguards to protect the public’s health from emerging energy and other technologies.
About shale gas extraction
The expanding use of shale gas extraction across the United States coincides with demands to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, desires to decrease dependency on foreign energy, controversies over other energy sources like offshore drilling, nuclear energy, biofuels and the proposed Keystone pipeline, and slower advancements of renewables like wind and solar energy technologies.
Public health officials were not involved in this issue at the outset. As a result, the health system finds itself lacking critical information about environmental public health impacts of the technologies.