Natural gas is typically located in pockets deep underground, and getting to these pockets involved drilling which releases the gas to it may be pumped, or allowed to naturally flow to the surface. Both the air and water are polluted during all stages of this process.
During the drilling process, “drilling mud” is circulated into the borehole to keep the drill bit cool and lubricated. This fluid also serves to bring the rock debris from the drilling to the surface. During completion of the drilling, these muds are typically removed.
Air polutants which are released during the drilling process include benzene, toluene, formaldehyde, methane, hydrogen sulfide, nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons, sulfur dioxide and particulate matter. These chemicals and toxins are known to cause asthma, cancer,neurological damage, pulmonary reduction, coronary problems, endocrine disruption and debilitating headaches.
A few more details about the various polutants released into the air and water by natural gas development and combustion
- Hydrogen Sulfide: H2S is typically associated with natural gas and CBM formations. This is the gas that smells like rotten eggs. H2S seriously aggravates existing respiratory conditions, causes central nervous system problems, spontaneous abortions, and cardiovascular system difficulties and, according to the research of Dr. Kaye Kilburn and others, can seriously and permanently damage neurological functions.
- BTEX: Benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene and xylenes: Benzene and its associated chemicals are known carcinogens. Toluene may affect the reproductive and central nervous systems with ethylbenze and xylene may have respiratory and neurological effects.
- Heavy Metals: e.g. arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury, etc.: these metals, which show up in the drilling muds, the vented gas fumes and the fracturing fluids, have a number of different health consequences such as skin problems, hair loss, kidney damage, high blood pressure, increased cancer, neurological damage and more.
- Nitrogen Oxides: NOx typically react with VOCs to form ground level ozone and smog with can trigger asthma and other respiratory problems. These can also react with other chemicals to for particulate pollution, which can damage lungs and cause respiratory illness, heart conditions and premature death. They are also known to react with common organic chemicals to form toxins that may cause biological mutations.
- Sulfur Dioxide: SO2, which typically comes from engine exhaust, reacts with other chemicals used in the drilling process to for particulate pollution with, as noted above, can damage lungs; cause respiratory illness, heart conditions and premature death.