The green energy movement isn’t just about switching to renewable energy before natural gas, oil, and coal run out. It is also about switching to safer energy sources, which has never been more pressing than now as more and more stories of natural gas production hazards arise. In Pennsylvania alone, several prominent stories of natural gas well and production hazards have come to light in recent months and years, which begs the question, “Does living near a natural gas well cause health problems?” The answer seems to be a clear “yes,” but the type of health hazard can vary from situation to situation.
Natural Gas Wells & Childhood Cancer Risks
In August 2023, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh released a report on the link between natural gas production and serious health consequences, especially for young children. The researchers used data and medical information from hundreds of pediatric cancer cases throughout southwestern Pennsylvania to look for signs that the cancer rate increased in areas near fracking sites. Shockingly but also expectedly, the research data concluded that children living within one mile of an active natural gas well were up seven times more likely to be diagnosed with lymphoma than children who lived further away.
The same study noted that pregnant mothers who lived near fracking sites gave birth to children who weighed one ounce less than other children, on average. It did not conclude if the reduced birth weights in those cases could be linked to birth injuries and other health problems.
Rates of cancer diagnoses among adults in fracking-affected areas were not examined in the study. However, the researchers found that asthmatic adults in those areas were up to 500% more likely to suffer an asthma attack. This determination shows that natural gas wells can pose both long-term and short-term health risks to nearby residents.
Environmental Damage from Emissions
In March 2023, Shell – the massive oil and gas conglomerate – agreed to pay $10 million in penalties to Pennsylvania for emission problems at its newly opened plastics plant in Beaver County. According to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the plastics plant exceeded its annual volatile organic compound (VOC) emission limit before it was even officially launched. An investigation found that plant operators were burning excess gases generated as byproducts of the ethylene creation instead of releasing the gases into the atmosphere or otherwise stored. By burning the gases, the plant was creating massive amounts of VOC emissions that spread across Beaver County and possibly farther throughout Pennsylvania.
Exposure to VOC emissions has been linked to:
- Respiratory diseases
- Chronic migraines
- Nerve damage
- Liver and kidney damage
- Different types of cancer
The excess emissions situation at Shell first had eyes on it due to locals who were concerned about the plant’s operation. Soon after the plant was constructed and early operations began, residents noticed that the sky around it was a different hue than normal, but their concerns were largely ignored at first. It was only after consistent pushing and questioning from the public that the DEP conducted the in-depth investigations that led to the $10 million penalty enforcement against Shell.
Gas Line Explosions & Property Damage
Long-term and lingering damage caused by natural gas wells and gas byproducts are not the only hazards people might need to worry about. In any enclosed gas line system, there will always be risks of gas line explosions capable of causing catastrophic injuries and significant property damage.
In 2018, Beaver County, the same county that had been plagued with concerns about environmental issues caused by the local Shell plastics plant, was the site of a massive gas explosion. A home, barn, and several cars were destroyed in the blast and the resulting fire and a widescale evacuation order was given. A DEP investigation concluded that ETC Northeast Pipeline LLC and its parent company Energy Transfer had improperly maintained and worked on a gas pipeline in the area, leaving it vulnerable to landslide damage. The companies were ordered to pay a $30.6 million civil penalty for the negligence that led to such devastation.
What to Do If Your Family is Hurt by a Natural Gas Well
Do you live near a natural gas well or a gas processing plant? If you’re worried about it affecting your health or that of your family, you should arrange a consultation with your primary care provider. If you already have symptoms of an illness, then you should start a daily journal to record those symptoms, too. A symptoms journal can be a great help for your doctor to reach an accurate diagnosis, and it can also help a lawyer create an injury claim for you later.
You should also document the affected area if possible. For example, if your home has a thin layer of soot on it from refinery emissions in the air, then document it with photography and video.
Lastly, you should talk to an attorney as soon as possible to see if you have the grounds to start a claim against the gas company or corporation behind the unsafe management of the natural gas well. People across Pennsylvania know that they can trust the attorneys of Robert Peirce & Associates, P.C. for complex and high-stakes cases, such as those involving gas company negligence and toxic exposure. We would like to hear from you about your situation, so we can see what legal action can be used to pursue justice and compensation in your name.
Please call (844) 383-0565 to request a FREE consultation if you were exposed to unsafe conditions due to a gas well or refinery anywhere in Pennsylvania. Thank you.
More Information & Resources
- “New study digs into potential link between natural gas production, childhood cancer” (WPXI News)
- “Months after residents sound the alarm, Pennsylvania ‘cracks’ down on Shell plant” (NBC News)
- “Pipeline company fined $30M but can resume construction” (WTAE 4 ABC News)
- “Volatile Organic Compounds’ Impact on Indoor Air Quality” (Environmental Protection Agency)