Hydraulic fracturing—or “fracking”—is a drilling technique that is used to extract oil or natural gas from shale and other rock formations. Although fracking was first developed in the mid-20th century, this method of drilling has become much more common in the last 10 years thanks to the development of new technology and drilling techniques that have allowed access to oil and natural gas deposits.
In many cases, wells are drilled using a process known as directional drilling. This technique allows for both vertical and horizontal drilling to better access oil or natural gas deposits up to 10,000 feet below the ground.
After the well is drilled, fracking fluids are pumped into the well. Fracking fluid contains a mixture of a base fluid (usually water), a proppant (frequently silica sand), and chemical additives, such as friction reducers, solvents, and acids. This fracking fluid causes cracks known as fissures to form in the rock formations. The sand that is pumped into the well holds these fissures open, allowing oil or natural gas to flow upward to the surface.
Large amounts of silica sand are transported by truck and passed through a number of machines during the fracking process. These machines—including sand movers, transfer conveyor belts, and blender hoppers—can cause this dust to become airborne, increasing the risk that workers may breathe in the fine silica particles it contains.
Studies from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) have found that many fracking sites have levels of respirable crystalline silica that exceed federal safety standards. Natural gas workers who are exposed to airborne silica dust during the fracking process may face serious health risks as a result of inhaling these particles.
Workers who inhale silica dust may be at risk of developing silicosis, which causes inflammation and scarring of the lung tissue that reduces their ability to take in oxygen. Although silicosis usually takes 20 years or more after exposure to develop, some fracking workers may develop symptoms of the disease in as little as five to ten years as a result of their high levels of exposure.
Workers who develop silicosis or other diseases—including lung cancer, tuberculosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), kidney disease, or autoimmune disease—may be eligible to file a lawsuit against the oil or natural gas companies that were responsible for their silica exposure. According to OSHA and NIOSH, many workers involved in the fracking process are not provided with adequate respiratory or safety equipment despite the dangers of silica dust exposure.
If you or a loved one worked at a fracking site, or if you lived in an area were fracking took place, you may be eligible to file a lawsuit. For a free legal consultation about your case and to find out if you are eligible, contact the lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson by calling toll-free at 1-877-446-9001. You can also reach us by filling out the free case evaluation form at the top of this page, and one of our representatives with be in contact with you shortly.