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Chevron CEO admits ‘legitimate concerns’ exist about health effects of fracking drilling

The CEO of oil and natural gas giant Chevron said in a speech that there are “legitimate concerns” about the safety of the drilling process known as fracking. CEO John Watson’s comments came at an event held by the Center for Strategic and International Studies this week in Washington, DC.

Hydraulic fracturing—or “fracking”—is a technique used to drill for oil or natural gas by pumping large amounts of sand and fluid into a drilling well, causing oil or natural gas trapped within rock to be released. Although fracking was first developed in the mid-twentieth century, the process has become much more common in recent years thanks to the development of new technology that has allowed oil companies like Chevron to access previously unavailable fossil fuel deposits.

Speaking about public concerns about the safety of fracking and the need to regulate the health hazards of natural gas drilling, Watson said that, “Public expectations are very high, and there’s no reason they shouldn’t be high. There are some risks out there. Some risks are overstated. But we have to engage them either way.” A spokesman for Chevron said that Watson’s comments came in response to concerns about truck traffic around fracking sites and the disposal of water that has been contaminated with fracking fluids near drilling sites.

Federal health officials have also raised concerns about air quality at fracking sites and the effects that this could have on the health of workers and nearby residents. According to OSHA and NIOSH, the silica sand used in the fracking process can become airborne, putting the health of anyone who inhales this dust at risk. Inhaling silica sand can cause silicosis—scarring of the lungs due to the presence of silica particles—as well as lung cancer and other respiratory diseases.