Hydraulic fracturing, colloquially known as fracking, is a method of well stimulation through high-pressure fluid injection (Denham et al. 17). In their longitudinal observational study, Denham et al. studied the adverse effects of fracking on public health. The research question posed by the scientists was as follows: “Does residing next to active fracking sites lead to higher rates of hospitalization in Pennsylvania, United States?” This essay will assess the validity of the study design and findings and discuss what it implies for the future of environmental science.
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Methods and Research Design
For their study, Denham et al. examined hospital recordings in 16 counties in Pennsylvania seeking to find an association between the state burden of disease and the presence of numerous fracking sites (18). The study design appears to be convincing due to two factors. First, the research took place over the course of nine years (2004-2013) which allowed for presenting a larger picture by excluding minor aberrations and exposing major tendencies. Second, Denham et al. made an effort to isolate the effects of water and air pollution due to fracking from other factors contributing to poor health (19). To ensure precision, the authors did not consider data from bigger cities in Pennsylvania since living in densely populated urban areas generates stress unrelated to environmental issues.
Results and Findings
On the county level, Denham et al. found a positive association between cumulative well density and genitourinary hospitalizations for conditions such as urinary tract infection (UTI) (23). Hospital admissions because of skin-related diseases such as cellulitis and hand and leg abscess were also found to be more prevalent in the areas in close proximity to fracking sites (Denham et al. 23). The study’s findings are not exactly consistent with the previous data that pointed to a relationship between respiratory diseases such as asthma and the presence of hydraulic fracturing wells. Overall, Denham et al. argue that the density of wells in a county is proportional to the likelihood of hospitalizations due to genitourinary and skin diseases (23).
Discussion and Implications
Aside from adverse health outcomes in humans, fracking is also incredibly harmful to wild animals and natural ecosystems. The present article provides quite alarming data and may serve as a wake-up call for petrol engineers and policymakers. When becoming familiar with such research, they should revise their priorities and consider putting sustainable methods over unsafe technologies that generate maximum revenue. When left uncontrolled, densely situated fracking wells may cause a public health problem, which, in turn, will drain a country’s budget. The issue discussed in the article could have been avoided by the first place were experts and policymakers willing to explore renewable alternatives to fracking such as ground source or air source heat pumps.
In this day and age, the public is growing increasingly concerned about the impact of one of the most widespread technologies used for natural gas extraction, hydraulic fracturing. Even though the technology is highly applicable in a variety of environmental conditions and has been found economically beneficial, the question arises as to how safe and sustainable it is for human ecology. Denham et al. discovered that living close to active fracking sites increases the chances of being hospitalized with genitourinary or skin diseases. The findings might open a dialogue about alternative methods of gas extraction and warn the public about the effects of unrestricted fracking.
Denham, A., et al. “Unconventional Natural Gas Development and Hospitalizations: Evidence from Pennsylvania, United States, 2003–2014.” Public Health, vol. 168, 2019, pp. 17-25. Web.