Several drilling companies who have used fracking to drill for oil or natural gas deposits have reached confidential settlements with residents who had filed lawsuits against the company. These settlements have allowed drillers to avoid making admissions of wrongdoing while limiting bad publicity about the potentially negative health effects of living near a fracking site.
Fracking—or hydraulic fracturing—is a drilling process that allows drilling companies to extract oil or natural gas deposits that are trapped inside shale or other rock formations. After a well is drilled, large volumes of water, sand, and chemicals known as fracking fluids are pumped into the well, causing tiny cracks to form in the rock. These cracks are held open by the sand that is pumped underground, allowing oil or natural gas inside the rock to flow to the surface of the well.
Lawsuits filed in Texas, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Wyoming, and other states have alleged that the fracking fluids that are pumped into a well during the drilling process can cause groundwater contamination. Although many drilling companies have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to settle allegations that nearby residents were sickened by contaminated groundwater, these deals often contain confidentiality clauses that prevent information about the settlement—and about the link between fracking and contaminated water—from being made public.
Fracking has also been linked to an increased risk of silicosis and other respiratory disease among natural gas workers and residents who live near fracking sites. According to warnings from federal safety regulators, the large volumes of silica sand that are used in the fracking process can be breathed in by workers. Exposure to silica sand can lead to silicosis—a disease which causes scarring of the lung tissue—as well as lung cancer and other respiratory illnesses.