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Semin Respir Crit Care Med. 2015 Jun;36(3):379-87. doi: 10.1055/s-0035-1549453. Epub 2015 May 29.

Air contaminants associated with potential respiratory effects from unconventional resource development activities.

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Department of Occupational and Environmental Health, West Virginia University, Morgantown, West Virginia.


Unconventional natural gas development uses horizontal drilling in conjunction with hydraulic fracturing to gain access to natural gas deposits which may be tightly held in shale deposits and unavailable to conventional vertical drilling operations. The intensive work required to extract this source of energy results in higher than usual numbers of vehicles involved, potential release of emissions from those vehicles in congested zones surrounding the drill site, and release of other contaminants from materials drawn back out of the borehole after fracturing of the shale. Typical contaminants would be diesel exhaust particulate and gases, volatile organic compounds and other hydrocarbons both from diesels and the drilling process, crystalline silica, used as part of the hydraulic fracturing process in kiloton quantities, and methane escaping from the borehole and piping. A rise in respiratory disease with proximity to the process has been reported in nearby communities and both silica and diesel exposures at the worksite are recognized respiratory hazards. Because of the relatively short time this process has been used to the extent it is currently being used, it is not possible to draw detailed conclusions about the respiratory hazards that may be posed. However, based on the traffic volume associated with each drill site and the number of drill sites in any locale, it is possible at least to compare the effects to that of large traffic volume highways which are known to produce some respiratory effects in surrounding areas.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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